Why Britain’s voters must have a second referendum on Brexit

Vernon Bogdanor writes: ast week, the government set out key elements of its strategy for achieving Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. It seeks a soft landing to a hard Brexit. It wants a time-limited transition period after March 2019, when Britain is due to leave the bloc. During that period, the government hopes for a “close association with the EU customs union”. When it ends, Britain will leave the customs union but seek “a new customs arrangement” that preserves “the freest and most frictionless trade possible” and Britain will then seek a free trade agreement.

These proposals are beset with ambiguity and difficulty, although the idea of a transitional agreement has been welcomed by business. Brexiters fear – and some Remainers hope – that at the end of the transitional period it will be found to have been so comfortable that it will be extended. In that case, Britain would, to a significant degree, remain in the EU, but as a de facto satellite rather than a participating member.

Remainers put too much faith in the transitional agreement. Business seeks certainty so that new investment can be undertaken without fear that market conditions will radically alter. A transitional agreement cannot provide this. It merely offers a stay of execution. A company seeking to decide whether to invest is not helped by being told that the period of uncertainty, instead of being 18 months, will be prolonged for a further two years. [Continue reading…]


The disastrous consequences of basing politics on what you are against, not what you are for

David Miliband writes: For many years Britons and Americans have been proud of the quality of their governance. Yet today our politics and government are setting new standards for dysfunction. Rather than stability and global leadership there is confusion.

The US is suffering from a serious inability to legislate. There is a genuine risk of the country defaulting on its debts. Jeb Bush called Donald Trump the “chaos candidate”, but as the American writer Jonathan Rauch has pointed out the Trump candidacy was the product of political chaos – in campaign finance, for example – not its cause.

Meanwhile, Britain is suffering its own governability crisis. Leaving the EU was mis-sold as a quick fix. Now it looks like a decade-long process of unscrambling the eggs of national and European legislation. Ministers cannot even agree among themselves the destination, the route map or the vehicles to get us there.

This transatlantic malaise has a common root: politics based on what you are against, not what you are for. Look at the campaigns against the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and against the EU. There is a common trope: the politics of grievance.

Complaints about individual policies became attacks against a whole institutional architecture. There were outright lies in both campaigns. And there was a complete (and effective) refusal to describe, never mind debate, what would replace the status quo. [Continue reading…]


They say after Brexit there’ll be food rotting in the fields. It’s already started

John Harris writes: n the wake of an ocean of writing linking Brexit to the zeitgeisty Dunkirk spirit, here’s one more martial metaphor. Self-evidently, this is the phoney war stage of the process. Negotiations have barely started; the prime minister is on holiday. Most importantly, the fragile tangle of threads that defines what passes for Britain’s economic wellbeing – that mixture of affordable essentials, freely available credit and dependable house prices which ensures no one gets too uppity about stagnating wages – just about remains intact. Meanwhile, ministers – and Labour politicians – talk about the fundamentals of leaving the European Union as if we can push Brussels in any direction we fancy and freely choose no end of measures to ease our passage out.

The recent noise about freedom of movement is a case in point. If the government has a coherent position, it seems to be that migration from the EU under current rules will end in 2019, but also carry on, with – according to the home secretary, anyway – the proviso that during an “implementation phase” of up to four years, people from the EU will simply have to add their names to a national register. Thus, a great human army which keeps so much of Britain’s economy ticking over will still be available, just as long as the right arrangements are put in place.

This is, of course, somewhat less than credible, as evidenced by a mounting crisis that has yet to turn critical but is bubbling away across the country. At the very least, we are fundamentally changing the basis on which people can live and work in the UK, swapping residence as a right for a much more uncertain system dependent on political caprice. [Continue reading…]


Britain couldn’t leave the single market if it tried

Andrew Adonis writes: The civil service prides itself on being able to deliver the crazy and impossible, if ministers so ordain. It even managed to introduce a poll tax for Margaret Thatcher, and to somehow keep it going for three years in the face of riots. But it’s increasingly clear that Brexit may be an impossibility too far, even for Whitehall’s brightest and best.

By Brexit, I mean the hard Brexit policy of leaving the core economic institutions of the European Union – the customs union and the single market – as set out by Theresa May in her Lancaster House speech at the start of the year. Before then, the working Whitehall assumption had been that Britain would seek to stay in both, while leaving the key decision-making institutions of the EU, including the European parliament and European council, resulting in an “associate member” status similar to that of Norway and Switzerland. The Lancaster House speech put an end to that.

Setting aside its merits, there is a huge practical problem with hard Brexit. Leaving the customs union and the single market requires the UK by March 2019 to negotiate new trade treaties not only with the EU27, but with the 75 other nations with which the EU has free or preferential trade agreements, if British trade is not to take an immediate and substantial hit. Between them, these 102 countries include most of the trading world, and account for more than 60% of UK exports of goods and services. [Continue reading…]


A second Brexit referendum? It’s looking more likely by the day

Vernon Bogdanor writes: Negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU have now begun in earnest. They are required, according to article 50, to “take account of the framework” for Britain’s “future relationship with the union”. But what is that future relationship to be?

Economically, the EU comprises three elements: a free trade area; a customs union (an area with a common trade policy and a common tariff); and an internal market in which non-tariff barriers to trade (regulations, standards and the like) are harmonised and, indeed, reduced.

Theresa May has declared that the UK will not seek to remain in the single market or the customs union. Campaigning for remain in 2016, she said of the single market: “We would have to make concessions in order to access it; these concessions could well be about accepting EU regulations over which we would have no say, making financial contributions just as we do now, accepting free movement rules just as we do now, or quite possibly all three combined.”

Both membership of the single market and a customs agreement would require us to accept much EU legislation without being able to help formulate it – and not just existing legislation, but any legislation the EU chooses to enact in future. We would become, in effect, a satellite of the EU, relying on the European commission or other member states to defend our interests. Such an outcome – regulation without representation – proved unacceptable to Americans in the 18th century. It would probably prove equally unacceptable to the British people in the 21st.

So, when May said that Brexit means Brexit, she was merely drawing out the constitutional logic of the referendum decision. For there is no logic to a “soft” Brexit – a form of withdrawal that mimics EU membership, but without the influence that comes from membership. The ultimate choice we face is either “hard” Brexit or remain. [Continue reading…]


London’s mayor — who happens to be Muslim

Sam Knight writes: Even people sympathetic to [Sadiq] Khan often admit that they underestimated him in the past, and have been forced to adjust their view since he became mayor. “Metaphorically—definitely not literally—he seemed to grow several inches,” a former senior Labour official told me. Khan and his advisers, meanwhile, enjoy his image as an underdog, a realist, and a competitor. (Khan is one of seven brothers, all of whom learned to box.) “His politics come from his experience,” a former aide said. “None of it is in that sense ideological or idealistic.” Khan’s visibility as mayor of London, and his sure-footedness, have led to his being frequently talked about as a future Labour leader, and Britain’s first Muslim Prime Minister. “He is absolutely stardust now,” Harman said. “He knows that, and he respects that.”

Polls show Khan to be the most popular politician in the country, and the 1.3 million votes cast for him as mayor give him the third-largest mandate of any politician in Europe. But, in 2017, it is still a long road to persuade large, fearful Western populations to trust their way of life and their security to a leader who is a devout Muslim. Britain’s right-wing press and anti-immigrant lobby are ready should Khan stumble. “They will turn on him,” one of his old law clients told me. “They will turn on him.”

And then there is wounded London. The capital has always occupied a morbidly distracting role in British life. In the United States, a city equivalent to London would have a population of forty-three million people and an economy the size of Texas’s and California’s combined. For centuries, London has been an unlovable, pushy place, full of questionable characters and strong appetites that have forced the country around it to change, sometimes against its will. In the eighteen-twenties, the rural campaigner William Cobbett described London as “the Great Wen,” a growing boil on the body of the nation. “People would follow, they must follow,” Cobbett mourned, “the million of money.”

It is Khan’s lot to have emerged as a national figure just as London is more vulnerable, and more at odds with the rest of Britain, than at any other point in its recent history. Despite the tragedies of the summer, the capital’s fundamental challenge is its future outside the European Union. Brexit poses an existential threat to the city’s wealth and its identity; one in nine Londoners is from elsewhere in the E.U. In City Hall that morning, the final two questions put to Khan were about the impact of the national government’s current hard-line approach to leaving the E.U., which will cost the capital billions and jeopardize its status as a global bazaar. The Mayor was terse and pessimistic. “If you think we will continue to be able to be as prosperous and successful,” he told the assembly, “think again.”

Khan is a student of American politics, and in describing the role of religion in his public identity he often paraphrases John F. Kennedy: he is not a Muslim mayor; he is a mayor who happens to be Muslim. He allays your concerns before they have a chance to form. Khan characterizes himself as a feminist. He is the first mayor to walk in the city’s gay-pride march. But he is also conscious that he has an obligation to talk about and demystify Islam. “There is a way I define myself,” Khan told me, “and there is a way that others have defined me.”

He will quote passages from the Quran and the Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet, when discussing terrorism. When I asked him how to say his name (Urdu speakers pronounce it “Saadik”; English speakers tend to say “Sadeek”), Khan spelled out his name in Arabic—“sawd alif daal kaaf”—and explained that it means “truthful.” In 2009, when he was sworn in as a member of the Privy Council, an ancient body of senior politicians, Khan brought his own Quran to Buckingham Palace and left it there, because the palace did not have a copy. Sometimes it is as if he were leading a one-man religious-education exercise. “Many people in positions of power and influence, they have not broken bread with a Muslim,” Khan said. “Part of it is reassuring them: The sky is not going to fall in. You are in safe hands. All the stuff that you worry about, I worry about as well. All the dreams you have got, I have got as well.”

As mayor, Khan has made some of his religious practices into political acts. During Ramadan, which began this year in late May, Khan often broke his fast—taking the evening meal known as Iftar—at interfaith events. One evening, I joined him for Iftar at the house of the Catholic Archbishop of London, behind Westminster Cathedral. There were about a hundred people in a grand upstairs room decorated with Latin mottoes and a portrait of the Pope. Among them were boys from Ernest Bevin College, a state school in South London, which Khan attended. In 1985, when Khan was fourteen, the school appointed Britain’s first Muslim head teacher, Syed (Naz) Bokhari, who was a mentor to Khan until his death, in 2011. At the Iftar, Khan was introduced by Bokhari’s son, Harris.

Because Britain has no senior Muslim authority, Khan often finds himself in the role by default. The other guests of honor at the Iftar were London’s cardinal, Vincent Nichols, and the country’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis. Khan was in a relaxed mood; he is never quite genial. When he spoke, he told a few safe jokes and quoted the twelfth-century Islamic scholar Ibn al Jawzi: “I have not seen a flaw in people as great as the flaw of the able not reaching their potential.” Khan continued, “As a city, and as a society, improving how we mix together is one of the biggest challenges we face if we want to reach our full potential.”

At 9:19 p.m., Khan broke his fast with a date and a glass of water. There was food ready, but a small group of the most observant Muslims went downstairs to say the Maghrib, the sunset prayer. Khan went, too, and in a ground-floor office lined with Catholic journals and maps of the English coastline the women covered their heads and the men found the direction of Mecca. In the second row of worshippers, his silver head standing out against the black hair of the boys around him, the Mayor of London put his forehead against the floor.

In retirement, Khan’s father, Amanullah, became a muezzin at the Balham Mosque, in Tooting, the scrappy, polyglot South London neighborhood where the Mayor grew up and still lives. (Khan’s wife, Saadiya, is a lawyer; they have two daughters.) Both of Khan’s parents were from middle-class Muslim families who left India during Partition. In Pakistan, Amanullah’s father was a civil servant; Khan’s maternal grandfather managed a cotton mill. Amanullah studied engineering and served in the Pakistani Air Force before emigrating first to Australia and then to London, where he arrived in the early sixties. He calculated that he could earn more as a bus driver than he could starting out at an engineering firm, and he ended up driving a bus for twenty-five years.

In 1967, Amanullah’s wife, Sehrun, and their three children came to join him. When Sadiq Aman Khan was born, in 1970, the family lived on the Henry Prince Estate, a housing project in Earlsfield, a mile or so northwest of Tooting. “It wasn’t ‘Oliver Twist,’ ” he told me. “But it was tough.” Soon, there were four more brothers, and the family of ten squeezed into a three-bedroom apartment. (Khan shared a bunk bed until he was twenty-four, the year he got married.) “All eight of us grew up watching my mum and dad working all the hours God sends,” Khan said. “That was the ethic.”

Sehrun did piecework sewing—making dresses for fifty pence an item—late into the night. Amanullah died in 2005, and the downward mobility, the toil, of his parents’ immigrant experience is a mark that has never left Khan. He sees his opportunities in the negation of theirs. [Continue reading…]


Another future is still possible

Timothy Garton Ash writes: Be it the madness of the man on one side of the Atlantic or the madness of the thing [Brexit] on the other, some of the symptoms are similar – as are some of the causes. The level of verbal vitriolage is almost unprecedented. Both Washington and London, capitals generally known for reasonably stable and efficient government, are now witnessing an extraordinary confusion.

Most senior positions in the state department, for example, are still unfilled. Scaramucci just effectively accused Trump’s chief of staff of leaking. British cabinet ministers publicly contradict each other. On the Thames as on the Potomac river, there are more leaks, gaffes and sudden reversals than in any theatrical farce.

Small wonder the German chancellor says continental Europeans can no longer rely on their traditional cross-Channel and transatlantic allies. Russia and China were laughing all the way to the G20 meeting in Hamburg, in advance of which China Daily had a front page declaring that “amid concerns about US protectionism and Brexit, China and Germany are expected to lead the charge for globalisation and free trade”.

So is this the end of the west? Or at least, of the Anglo-Saxon west? I first heard the argument that the conjunction of Trump and Brexit marks a secular decline of the Anglo-Saxons from a former Finnish prime minister, and have heard it from several other observers since.

The 19th century belonged to Britain, the 20th century (at least post-1945) to the United States. The neoliberalism which exercised a kind of global ideological dominance between the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the financial crisis of 2008 was a characteristic Anglo-Saxon product. It is itself the root cause of the genuine, widespread discontents which populists have exploited to gain power in both Britain and the United States. So the argument goes, not without some schadenfreude – especially in France.

But be careful, chers amis, what you wish for. You may envisage a post-Anglo-Saxon 21st-century gloriously illuminated by the enlightened policies of Macron and Justin Trudeau. Yet the Fortinbras who commands the stage after the self-destruction of the Anglo-Saxon Hamlet is more likely to have the face of a Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Anyway, this is a clear case of POI (premature overdramatic interpretation), colloquially known as pundit’s disease. Another future is still possible. Last summer, when I asked a distinguished American political scientist how he would react to a Trump presidency, he said it would be a very interesting test of the American political system. When we resumed the conversation on the Stanford University campus last week, we agreed that thus far the constitutional checks and balances seemed to be working. [Continue reading…]


There’s still a real chance for a second Brexit referendum

Jonathan Freedland writes: roject fear is becoming project reality. Each day brings new evidence of the dire consequences of Brexit. Sometimes it takes the form of a big company announcing that it’s moving operations from the UK to the continent, taking hundreds or thousands of jobs with it. It could be JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs or Samsung, depending on the day of the week.

Or it may be a plea from a key industry voicing its fears of a mismanaged departure from the EU. This week it was medicine and aviation. Eight pharmaceutical trade associations wrote a joint letter warning that the supply of “life-saving medicines” faces disruption, while UK airports cautioned that all flights to Europe could be suspended if there’s no deal to replace the EU “open skies” agreement.

A fortnight ago came figures showing that investment in the UK car industry had plummeted, with uncertainty over Brexit the culprit. Meanwhile, MPs are nervously realising that when they voted to trigger article 50 they also voted to leave Euratom, the body that safeguards the movement of nuclear materials. That’s scary enough, but if we’re outside Euratom medical equipment involved in x-rays and radiotherapy could be stopped at the border. [Continue reading…]


Report calls for public inquiry into Gulf funding of British extremism

The Guardian reports: Foreign funding for extremism in Britain primarily comes from Saudi Arabia, but the UK government should set up a public inquiry into all Gulf funding sources, a report has said.

The report by the Henry Jackson Society also calls for the government to consider requiring UK religious institutions, including mosques, to be required to reveal sources of overseas funding.

The findings come as Theresa May faces pressure to publish the government’s own report into foreign funding of terrorism. The Home Office-led report was completed six months ago, and No 10 says ministers are still deciding whether to publish. MPs nervous of upsetting strategic relations in the Gulf have also decided not to publish a separate Foreign Office strategy paper on the region. [Continue reading…]


Poll finds that 60% of Britons want to keep their EU citizenship

The Guardian reports: Six out of 10 Britons want to keep their European Union citizenship after Brexit – including the rights to live, work, study and travel in the EU – and many would be prepared to pay large sums to do so, according to research led by the London School of Economics.

Support for retaining the rights is particularly strong among 18- to 24-year-olds, 85% of whom want to retain their EU citizenship in addition to their British citizenship. Around 80% of people living in London also want to maintain the same rights.

The findings come as pressure on Theresa May mounts from UK business groups, led by the CBI and Remain politicians in both houses of parliament, as well as cultural figures from across Europe, to pull back from her plans for a “hard Brexit” in favour of a deal that maintains the strongest possible trade and other links with the EU after the UK leaves in 2019. [Continue reading…]


Cyber-attack on UK parliament: Russia is suspected culprit

The Guardian reports: The Russian government is suspected of being behind a cyber-attack on parliament that breached dozens of email accounts belonging to MPs and peers.

Although the investigation is at an early stage and the identity of those responsible may prove impossible to establish with absolute certainty, Moscow is deemed the most likely culprit.

The disclosure follows the release of the first details of the “sustained” cyber-attack that began on Friday. Fewer than 90 email accounts belonging to parliamentarians are believed to have been hacked, a parliamentary spokesman said.

Amid fears that the breach could lead to blackmail attempts, officials were forced to lock MPs out of their own email accounts as they scrambled to minimise the damage from the incident. [Continue reading…]


Sadiq Khan adds voice to calls for UK to remain in single market

The Guardian reports: Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is calling on the government to fight to keep Britain in the single market, as senior opposition politicians step up the pressure on Theresa May for a softer Brexit after her Commons majority was wiped out at the general election.

Khan said: “The prime minister sought a mandate from the British people for her version of hard Brexit but the electorate registered their opposition. It’s time she heeded the message.

“The Brexit goalposts have been moved. The government must now listen to the will of the people by putting aside ideology, and negotiating a sensible Brexit that ensures continued membership of the single market.”

He said continued single market membership represented the best chance to preserve London’s tech, pharmaceutical and financial services industries.

Some of the prime minister’s cabinet colleagues, including the chancellor, Philip Hammond, appear to have taken the election result as a vindication of their view that the economy must take priority in the negotiations, which started on Monday.

Hammond told the BBC on Thursday morning, as May prepared to travel to Brussels to meet her EU counterparts, that transitional arrangements as the UK leaves could last as long as four years, to avoid a “cliff edge” for businesses. [Continue reading…]


Queen gives no indication of welcoming Trump to the UK

The Guardian reports: The Queen’s speech has given a further indication that Donald Trump’s planned state visit to the UK has been put on hold, after the monarch did not mention it in her address.

The speech usually mentions any state visits planned for the duration of the parliament. Speaking on Wednesday, the Queen said she and Prince Philip “look forward to welcoming their majesties King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain on a state visit in July”.

However, it did not mention the visit of Trump, initially planned for this summer after Theresa May invited him on behalf of the Queen when she visited the US president in Washington DC in January, shortly after he took office.

This Queen’s speech is intended to herald a parliament lasting two years, rather than the usual one, indicating that no date for Trump’s visit has been scheduled for the near future. [Continue reading…]


America in retreat, Europe en marche

Sylvie Kauffmann writes: As British conservatives licked their wounds a week ago, and French voters were electing hundreds of rookies to Parliament to strengthen the hand of President Emmanuel Macron, Ukrainians at last had a reason to celebrate — and they did, partying by the thousands in Kiev. For them, June 11 was the dawn of the long-awaited era of visa-free travel to Europe. One local magazine called it “Ukraine’s Berlin Wall moment.”

This event, little noticed in the midst of so many political upheavals, is a fresh sign that Europe is moving forward. Giving some 45 million Ukrainians the right to travel freely through the 26 countries of the Schengen area is something of an achievement at a time when, across the European Union, the word “immigration” sounds like a recipe for electoral disaster.

Don’t expect European Union leaders to boast about it; that is not something they are good at. Yet a new mood is taking hold in Brussels and other European capitals these days, a wind of hope and optimism rarely felt in the last two decades.

After so many existential crises, believers in the European Union are suddenly waking up to realize that the reports of its death were greatly exaggerated. The eurozone has not collapsed. Britain’s exit, which shocked and destabilized the union a year ago, is now perceived as an opportunity for the 27 remaining members to regroup. [Continue reading…]


Outside Britain, the mood in the EU is on the upswing

Natalie Nougayrède writes: That Helmut Kohl, the man who oversaw the reunification of Germany and was for so long a giant on the European stage, should die on the eve of negotiations leading to Britain’s withdrawal from the EU seems symbolic. The former German chancellor made the best of the extraordinary circumstances and public mood that followed the collapse of communism and the opening up of eastern Europe.

Today’s European leaders are, by contrast, confronted with an especially adverse set of circumstances. Trump, Putin, Erdoğan, terrorism, unprecedented flows of migration, unemployment, the rise of populism and, of course, Brexit. But, just as Kohl and his French contemporary François Mitterrand relaunched the European project in the early 1990s, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are, as Britain prepares to leave, readying their ambitions and vision for the continent.

At stake is no less than Europe’s role in defending liberal democratic values and a rules-based international order at a time when – as one former Obama administration official put it to me recently – Trump’s America is “missing in action and the UK is disappearing into oblivion”. The words may be harsh, but they underscore that Britain’s central weakness lies not only in its internal political confusion – but also with a dangerous ignorance of what its European neighbours are setting their sights on.

The Franco-German engine is not focusing on Brexit but rather on consolidating the 60-year-old European project through further integration and cooperation. At the heart of this stands an emerging Macron-Merkel deal, intended to act as Europe’s new powerhouse. On 15 May, the French and German leaders met and spoke of a new “roadmap” for the EU. The thinking goes like this: in the next two to three years, as France carries out structural economic reforms to boost its credibility, Germany will step up much-needed European financial solidarity and investment mechanisms, and embrace a new role on foreign policy, security and defence. [Continue reading…]


‘Hero’ imam praises group that saved Finsbury Park suspect from angry crowd

The Guardian reports: In the chaos and terror of the moment, events might have taken an even darker turn.

Outside the Muslim Welfare Centre, three men wrestled to the ground the driver of a van which had ploughed into people leaving the mosque.

Amid confusion, distress and anger, a crowd gathered. Fists and feet struck out. Suddenly a voice shouted: “No one touch him – no one! No one!”

It came from Mohammed Mahmoud, the mosque’s imam, later hailed as the hero of the day. He urged the crowd to be calm and restrained until the police arrived. [Continue reading…]



Following latest terrorist attack in UK, Trump remains silent

The Guardian reports: A man has died and eight others have been injured after a van ploughed into a group of people near a north London mosque in an attack police are treating as terrorism.

A 48-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. Two people hit by the van were said to be “very seriously injured”.

The prime minister, Theresa May, who was woken to be told of the early morning attack in Finsbury Park, said in a statement from Downing Street that the “hatred and evil” of the kind seen in the attack would never succeed.

May said the attack had “once again targeted the ordinary and the innocent going about their daily lives – this time, British Muslims as they left a mosque, having broken their fast and prayed together at this sacred time of year”.

She added: “Today we come together, as we have done before, to condemn this act and to state once again that hatred and evil of this kind will never succeed.”

May said the attack on Muslims was “every bit as insidious and destructive to our values and our way of life” as the recent string of attacks apparently motivated by Islamist extremism, adding: “We will stop at nothing to defeat it.”

It is the fourth terrorist attack to hit the UK in the past three months. [Continue reading…]