Tag Archives: Brexit


The long intervals between postings on this blog might suggest to my readers that nothing is happening to the relationships between Scotland and rUK, and Scotland and the EU. This is both true and not true. Plenty of stuff has been written and broadcast on hypothetical areas of conflict and whether or not Brexit will actually happen but until very recently there has been no real substance in these reports. So there wasn’t any point in repeating them.

The “Phoney War” was the 6 month period of relative quiet for the British Isles before Hitler unleashed his all-out attack during WWII. It has taken more than three months after Ms. May assured us that ”Brexit means Brexit” for a skeleton framework to emerge showing how she intends to proceed. Repeated claims have been made by the ”Three Brexiteers” Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davies that, in BoJo’s words, Britain can have its cake and eat it, i.e. continue as a full member of the European single market and still get the right to impose limits on immigration. The best response to this rubbish has been made by Mr. Tusk, currently President of the European Council. He advised : Buy a cake, eat it, and see if it is still there on the plate (http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/full-hard-brexit-speech-european-council-president-donald-tusk-1586332). Mr. Junker, Ms. Merkel and M. Hollande have been equally clear that a compromise on the Four Freedoms is not up for negotiation.

Ms. May considers that Brexit negotiations are part of UK foreign policy, an area ”reserved” for Westminster under the terms of the Scotland Act (1998). This point of view does not take into account the enormous effects that any form of Brexit will have on the internal workings of the UK. The obvious compromise would be for the preparations for Brexit to be made by a cross-party committee, representing the major shades of opinion within the UK. Negotiations with the EU would then proceed on the basis of the committee’s conclusions, which would be its negotiating mandate.

This will not happen, because….

Ms. May has formed a Cabinet committe (The European Union Exit and Trade Committee, EETC) to handle the Brexit negotiations. According to the news website Politico, the EETC is made up almost exclusively of hard-line Brexiteers. It does not include the Attorney General, a significant ommission in view of the legal complexities of the task. Neither does the Scottish Secretary (Whitehall’s man in Holyrood, David Mundall) have a permanent seat. On this score Scotland is no worse off than Northern Ireland and Wales. This is not a committee to produce a result balancing as far as possible the national and regional interests that make up the UK. Instead it is a committee to deliver the result ”Out whatever the cost”, thus putting the politics of the xenophobic right wing of the Conservative party well ahead of the national interest.

There is a hope that Westminster can at any rate be given a scrutinising role in the process – a decision by the High Court is expected next week, though the decision will almost inevitably be referred immediately to the Supreme Court (http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21708649-government-faces-legal-well-political-challenges-triggering-brexit). There is also speculation that, if Parliament were to be given the opportunity, a coalition of Labour, SNP and Europositive Conservative MPs might be able to prevent the invocation of Article 50. This would certainly inflame many of those who voted for Brexit and would require substantial courage from Conservative MPs to go against the party line.

Meanwhile, in Scotland Ms. Sturgeon has been delivering a consistent and prudent plan on how to approach the challenges of Brexit. Although the media have been full of reports that she will announce a new review of the need for a ”Second” IndyRef (it would actually be the third but no one seems to remember the IndyRef vote in 1978), her main thrust has been to try to ensure that the needs of Scotland will be adequately represented prior to Brexit negotiations. The first and overriding need is to remain within the EU. The second is to protect Scotland’s interests within Brexit negotiations. Only if these needs cannot be met, argues Ms. Sturgeon, can Scotland then claim that the conditions relating to IndyRef in 2014 have undergone such substantial changes that a new Independence Referendum should be organised (http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14801465.Nicola_Sturgeon_warns_Theresa_May__I_m_not_bluffing_about_independence_vote/). Holding another referendum would require permission from Westminster, something that is hard to imagine in the current political atmosphere.

Angus Robertson MP has done a good job as spokesman for the SNP in Westminster. At the recent SNP annual conference he was elected Deputy Leader of the party by a comfortable majority. Angus Robertson used his speech to call for immediate preparations for another IndyRef. This was injudicious for a number of reasons. Several opinions polls have shown people seem to be waiting for clearer details of what Brexit will mean before thinking about another IndyRef. Nor will a new IndyRef simply be a re-run of the 2014 campaign as the issues have changed. Furthermore no one should  think that IndyRef could take precedence over Brexit in the timetable for negotiations. Whether one likes it or not, Scotland’s future hinges on the relationship of the UK, or the rUK, with the EU so this must take precedence.

Finally it is interesting to note the increasing presence of Nordic issues in the Scottish debate. Last week Ms. Sturgeon addressed  the Arctic Circle conference in Reykjavik  and underlined Scotland’s commitment to the Arctic region and to multilateral cooperation. Nordic Horizons is planning a Conference on ”Scotland after Brexit” on Saturday 29 October, at which a number of the speakers will be from Nordic countries (http://www.nordichorizons.org/2016/09/scotland-after-brexit-event-details.html): your correspondent will report in due course. And on a humbler level your correspondent has addressed, and will go on addressing, branches of the Norden Association on the historical ties between Scotland and the Nordic nations and the issues of Scottish independence and the desirability of closer ties with the Nordic Union , which is itself evolving towards closer political integration.


SThe persistent and continuing use of outright lies is typical of the whole Brexit debate and has been high-lighted by a report of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS), citing particularly the claims by Brexiteers regarding NHS funding. The ERS wants the establishment of a watchdog, such as the Electoral Commission, to oversee and intervene against blatant lies in future referendum campaigns. The ERS cited the Scottish Independence Referendum as a role-model, offering a “vibrant, well-informed, grassroots conversation… that left a lasting legacy of on-going public participation in politics and public life”. Small consolation.

The ERS comment is particularly timely as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has launched a program of consultations on Scottish attitudes to Brexit.  This includes an on-line questionnaire as well as face-to-face meetings across the country. The questionnaire, published by the SNP, is posed as a series of open questions but there is no doubt that Ms. Sturgeon will be hoping that the result will boost the Scottish position in future negotiations with Westminster over the consequences of Brexit. The survey has already been criticised as too long and may further exacerbate a mounting tiredness in the electorate for grassroots participation: see for yourself:


Ms. Sturgeon also repeated her demand that Scottish representatives should be present during the discussions to determine the UK government’s Brexit negotiating position with the EU.

Representatives of the Cabinet, such as Brexit Secretary David Davis, keep repeating with the stubbornness of fools that they expect to achieve an agreement combining continuing free trade and the imposition of immigration limits with the EU. This combination has repeatedly been ruled out by various top EU politicians as well as Polish and Romanian prime ministers. It would also seem to contradict a statement by Foreign Minister Boris Johnson’s that Polish immigrants will continue to be welcome to the UK.

Some of the British media are full of reports that the economic consequences of Brexit were vastly overrated and that the British economy is actually booming. The positive attitude of the Australian Prime Minister to a trade deal with the UK has also been given much publicity. These soundbites contrast strongly with comments by leading politicians in Japan, German and USA on the negative long-term consequences of Brexit for world trade. PRC is being more cautious but it has a big club in its hand as the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant deal is up for review by a sceptical Ms. May. Arkady Dvorkovich, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, has stated that “Brexit will make Europe a little bit weaker”, without spelling out the consequences for the UK. As this blog has previously noted, the real costs will take years, more probably decades, to become apparent.

This is all neatly summed up in an on-line comment by a reader of The Independent:

Wiseowler (extract)

“The powers that be have spoken – the Japanese will move away their industries, we will have to wait for ages for a US trade deal, we will only get on with the Chinese if we give them access to our nuclear power industry, and the EU will only allow tariff free access if we allow free movement of labour.”




Article 50

    1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. 3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period. 4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.

      A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

      5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.

Observant followers will have noticed that this resurrected blog has not lived up to its self-stated goal of an article on average once a week. The reasons are simple. The goal itself is probably over-optimistic; and during the holiday period of the UK, very little of substance has occurred regarding the Brexit process. The great majority of news has been” Silly Season” stuff and not worth bothering my discriminating readers with.

One thing has become crystal-clear. Scotland is not on a fast-track into the EU or to Independence. Constitutionally nothing can be negotiated until the need for a new relationship between Scotland and Rest UK (rUK) has been agreed upon. Ms. May is not giving priority to that topic, however much Ms. Sturgeon complains. A vociferous but probably small Scottish faction is agitating on the Internet for a quick “second” Independence referendum (actually it would be the third) This would be a bad strategy. The arguments for a Scotland that is ultimately part of the EU and independent from an rUK that is not part of the EU, are different and even more complicated than those of 2014. As long as no one knows how Brexit is actually going to look, there is no point in muddying the waters by further meaningless speculations.

Ms. Sturgeon is under no illusions as to what Brexit means for the Scottish economy. A Scottish government report concludes that the cost of Brexit to Scotland will be between £2 and £11 billion per year over the period to 2030, with a corresponding reduction in tax revenue.  She has introduced a bill in Holyrood that is intended to buffer some of the immediate negative effects. Quite apart from Brexit issues, the value of oil revenues from the North Sea has plummeted, showing that the “No” side of the referendum was not all wrong in its criticism of Independence.

The pro-Brexit elements of the media, such as The Telegraph and the Daily Express, have been mocking the pessimistic economic projections made by the Remain movement. For example, the property market has not collapsed. This can to some extent be attributed to the prompt action of the Bank of England which immediately cut interest rates and provided £40 billion of quantitative easing (QE). In the two months since the referendum the value of the pound has fallen by 11% against both the Euro and the dollar, a situation that may worsen if QE does not work as intended. The large depreciation may bring home the realities of Brexit to UK tourists when they order a meal in Munich or a bottle of bubbly in Barcelona.

The euphoria of the Brexiteers is likely to be short-lived. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that loss of access to the single market will cut GDP growth by 4% and be particularly harmful for financial services. The true cost of Brexit is something that our grandchildren may find out. A figure of £5 billion of spread over the next decade has been quoted for the cost of the two new departments that are being set up within government: the Department for Exiting the European Union under David Davis and the Department for International Trade under Liam Fox. Serious shortages of experienced UK negotiators are forecast (for example, 20 UK to 600 EU trade experts) and in-fighting between the Foreign Office and the Department of International Trade has already begun, leading to salaries of up to £5,000/day being paid to top consultants.

As to the Brexit process itself, the main topic of speculation is when Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, the first step of the negotiating process, will actually be triggered. Buoyed by their unexpected victory in the referendum, hard-line Brexiteers are claiming that the trigger should be pulled before the end of the year and the negotiations completed within two years. I don’t suppose those persons have actually bothered to read the Treaty of Lisbon, article 218, which sets out how such negotiations are to be structured. It’s easy to google and takes only a little longer to understand. More realistic estimates of the time required range from 5 – 10 years to infinity. There are strong arguments for Ms. May not to pull the trigger until at least 2017. The former Attorney General and now MP Dominic Grieve, believes that parliamentary approval to invoke Article 50 is necessary, implying that this permission might not be given.

 “Brexit means Brexit” negotiations will not take place against a static background of European or UK politics. 2017 will see general elections in Germany, Holland and France which will bring in fresh faces and opinions to a range of EU organs. The next UK General Election is scheduled for 2020. If the Labour Party chaos continues into the autumn, Ms. May might be tempted to call a snap general election before the end of the year. Whichever time scale kicks in, it is virtually certain that the UK will have a General Election before Brexit is complete. The Brexit process would certainly be the main topic of election manifestos. Constitutionally, therefore, there is still a theoretical chance that the referendum decision might be repealed by the electorate and/or the next parliament.

TV viewers in Sweden have just seen the last instalment of “The Hollow Crown”. The series showed a broad range of the treatments given to those seen to be traitors, or simply disposable. Beheading, suffocating, hanging, drawing and quartering were all ways of getting even with enemies of the State and the favourite setting for these spectacles was The Tower of London. More recently blood-letting has given way to impeachment but the Tower is still standing. Perhaps some post-modernistic Shakespeare will write a play in which Boris, Nigel, David and Liam are impeached, found guilty of High Treason and locked up in the Tower to eke out their remaining days on a diet of snails whose best-before date has expired, stale baguettes and disgusting cheap vin rouge. No fate is too bad for those lying scoundrels.

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.