Wild is the wind: The resource that could power the world

Paula Cocozza reports: The wind rips along the Humber estuary in Hull. It’s the kind that presses your coat to your back and pushes you on to your toes. “A bit too windy,” shouts Andy Sykes, before his words are swept away. He is the head of operational excellence at the Siemens Gamesa factory, which supplies blades – the bits that turn – to windfarms in the North Sea. At 75 metres long, they are hard to manoeuvre when it’s gusting.

Inside the vast factory hall, the blades lie in various states of undress. Several hundred layers of fibreglass and balsa wood are being tucked into giant moulds by hand. There are “naked” blades that require paint and whose bodies have the patina of polished tortoiseshell. Look through the hollow blades from the broadest part, and a pale green path, the tinge of fibreglass, snakes down the long tunnel, tapering to a small burst of daylight at its tip.

“Alice in Wonderland,” Sykes says. “That’s how I feel. That’s the emotion coming through. It’s 75 metres long. We know that. But stood here the perspective is just fantastic. It’s my favourite view.” Down this strange green rabbithole is a glimpse of a greener future, the possibility of a world powered by wind.

This is not as fanciful a vision as it once seemed. In the UK, the wind energy industry is celebrating. Last month, the cost of renewable energy dropped dramatically to undercut by almost half the government’s projections for 2025. At £57.50 per megawatt-hour (MWh), it is far cheaper than the state-backed price of £92.50 awarded in 2016 to Hinkley nuclear power station. The speed of wind’s progress is extreme and inarguable.

Emma Pinchbeck, executive director of RenewableUK, and a former climate change activist, can’t keep the happiness from her voice. But she is happy for new reasons. What’s really exciting, she says, is the fact that she “is not having to talk to officials about decarbonisation any more as a starting point. Windfarms are low carbon. But that’s not why we want to build them. We want to build them because they’re bloody cheap!” [Continue reading…]

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A suspected network of 13,000 Twitter bots pumped out pro-Brexit messages in the run-up to the EU vote

BuzzFeed reports: Researchers have uncovered new evidence of networks of thousands of suspect Twitter bots working to influence the Brexit debate in the run-up to the EU referendum.

The findings, from researchers at City, University of London, include a network of more than 13,000 suspected bots that tweeted predominantly pro-Brexit messages before being deleted or removed from Twitter in the weeks following the vote.

The research – which is published in the peer-reviewed Social Science Computer Review journal and was shared exclusively with BuzzFeed News – suggests the suspected bot accounts were eight times more likely to tweet pro-leave than pro-remain content.

“This is research that corroborates what Facebook and others say: that there are bots that serve to falsely amplify certain messages,” co-author Dan Mercea told BuzzFeed News.

“There is a potential distortion of public communications and we want to get to the bottom of that. This amplification is of concern as it gives us a false sense of momentum behind certain ideas… If there is false amplification, how do we know if someone is genuine?”

The new evidence of botnet activity in the EU referendum raises serious questions for Twitter, including whether the tech giant has any evidence as to who was behind the bots, and whether or not the site was aware of significant Brexit bot activity at the time. [Continue reading…]

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Britain’s relationship with the EU has not yet reached the point of no return

Helen Mountfield QC writes: As the storm clouds gather over Brexit, the EU withdrawal bill has been delayed a second time while the government tries to persuade backbench Tories to revoke their support for amendments that would allow MPs to block a “no deal” Brexit. The ever-sane Conservative MPs Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry have put their names to an amendment that would provide that any final deal must be approved by a separate act of parliament. This is more than parliament parking its constitutional tanks on the government’s lawn: it means that if, as seems increasingly likely, the only option on offer is a disastrous, no-deal Brexit, MPs can require the government to think again.

These amendments prompt the question: haven’t we already bound ourselves to leave the EU, by triggering article 50? The answer is no, probably not. No one has ever tested exactly what article 50 means before, because no one has ever used it, so anything that a lawyer says about its reversibility is informed speculation. But most EU lawyers think that having given notification of intention to withdraw from the EU under article 50 doesn’t actually bind us to doing it.

Article 50 is a provision for withdrawal from the EU, not expulsion from it. We are the petitioners here. If parliament decides that having thought it through, we would be mad to leave and wants to call it off, then there is a short window in which the court of justice of the EU would probably rule that we can. That is, we can decide to stay unilaterally, without asking the European council, or the commission, or the EU27, for permission.

The frequently used divorce metaphor is helpful here. All we have done is tell the EU we are unhappy and plan to go. Our relationship has not yet reached the point of no return. [Continue reading…]

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The time has come for Theresa May to tell Britain: Brexit can’t be done

Alastair Campbell writes: As she tries to move the Brexit negotiations forward, how much better would Theresa May and the country feel if the speech she made to her party went as follows.

“Leadership is about confronting the great challenges. But Brexit is the biggest challenge we have faced since the second world war. So I intend to devote my speech, in four parts, to this alone.

“First, I want to explain why I voted remain – because for all its faults, the European Union has been a force for good in Europe and in the UK. I believed that our future prosperity and security, and opportunities for our young people, would be enhanced by staying in. Second, I want to explain why, nonetheless, I was something of a reluctant remainer. The truth is, there is a lot wrong with the EU. So though I voted remain, I was not starry-eyed. I was determined that, had we won, we would also fight for reform.

“Third, I want to explain why I have been trying so hard to deliver the Brexit the people voted for. It was a close result. But leave won. I felt strongly that it was my duty to deliver the only Brexit that I believed could meet the demands of the majority of leavers – out of the single market and the customs union, out of the European court of justice.

“But precisely because I have a profound sense of duty, I want to tell you the absolute truth as I see it. It cannot be done. Yes, you can shout. You can storm out. But I have looked at it every which way. And, as your leader, I have concluded that it cannot be done without enormous damage to our economy, to your living standards, to our public services, to our standing in the world. This is damage I am not prepared to inflict. The cost is too high. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s rogue state: U.S. has no right to terminate Iran accord says EU

Politico reports: The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Friday that the United States had no right to unilaterally terminate the Iran nuclear accord. She called the agreement “effective” and said there had been “no violations of any of the commitments” in the deal.

At a news conference at the European Commission’s Brussels headquarters, Mogherini gave a strongly-worded rebuke of the U.S., which has been a chief ally of the EU on security matters, including the response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.

Her comments were aimed directly at U.S. President Donald Trump, moments after he gave a speech in Washington saying he would not certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement, and was asking Congress to adopt legislation that would potentially trigger the reimposition of sanctions on Tehran.

“More than two years ago, exactly in July 2015, the entire international community welcomed the results of 12 years of intense negotiations on the Iran nuclear program,” Mogherini said, adding: “It is not a bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country. And it is not up to any single country to terminate it. It is a multilateral agreement, which was unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.”

Joining Mogherini in what amounted to extraordinary isolation of the U.S. president, French President Emmanuel Macron, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement reaffirming their support for the accord, which they described as “in our shared national security interest.” [Continue reading…]

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European leaders criticize Trump’s disavowal of Iran deal

The New York Times reports: Iran, Russia and European leaders roundly condemned President Trump’s decision on Friday to disavow the Iran nuclear deal, saying that it reflected the growing isolation of the United States, threatened to destabilize the Middle East and could make it harder to resolve the growing tensions on the Korean penninsula.

The reaction was far from panicked, as Mr. Trump’s decision punts to Congress the critical decision of whether the United States will reimpose sanctions on Iran — a step that would effectively sink the deal.

But Mr. Trump also warned that unless the nuclear agreement was altered and made permanent — to prohibit Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons — he would terminate the agreement, an ultimatum that threw the future of the accord into question.

Though they avoided direct criticism of Mr. Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France said in a rare joint statement that they “stand committed” to the 2015 nuclear deal and that preserving it was “in our shared national security interest.”

“The nuclear deal was the culmination of 13 years of diplomacy and was a major step towards ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program is not diverted for military purposes,” they added.

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, said that Mr. Trump was sending “a difficult and also from our point of view dangerous signal.”

He said that the Iran deal, and other diplomatic achievements, were necessary “to convince countries like North Korea, and maybe also others, that it is possible to create security without acquiring nuclear weapons.”

“Destroying this agreement would, worldwide, mean that others could no longer rely on such agreements — that’s why it is a danger that goes further than Iran,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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Theresa May under pressure over ‘secret advice’ on halting Brexit

The Observer reports: Theresa May is under pressure to publish secret legal advice that is believed to state that parliament could still stop Brexit before the end of March 2019 if MPs judge that a change of mind is in the national interest. The move comes as concern grows that exit talks with Brussels are heading for disaster.

The calls for the prime minister to reveal advice from the country’s top legal experts follow government statements declaring that Brexit is now unstoppable, and that MPs will have to choose between whatever deal is on offer next year – even if it is a bad one – or no deal at all.

Disquiet has been growing among pro-remain MPs, and within the legal profession and business community, about what is becoming known as the government’s “kamikaze” approach. Ministers insist that stopping Brexit is not an option, as the British people made their decision in last year’s referendum, and the article 50 process is now under way, however damaging the consequences might turn out to be when negotiations are concluded. [Continue reading…]

Jessica Simor, QC, writes: Article 50 provides for the notification – not of withdrawal but of an “intention” to withdraw. In law, an “intention” is not a binding commitment; it can be changed or withdrawn. Article 50(5) is, moreover, clear that it is only after a member state has left that it has to reapply to join. Had the drafters intended that once a notification had taken place, a member state would have to request readmission (or seek the consent of the other member states to stay), then article 50(5) would have referred not just to the position following withdrawal, but also following notification. Such an interpretation is in line with the object and purpose of article 50.

The EU’s competences are based on the consent of its member states. The authority to increase or reduce these competences is within their hands. Article 50 is an example of the principles of consent and conferral; it confirms the right of a member state to withdraw from the union. In the words of the German federal constitutional court in the Lisbon case, the “right to withdraw underlines the member states’ sovereignty… If a member state can withdraw based on a decision made on its own responsibility, the process of European integration is not irreversible”. The purpose of article 50 is therefore to confirm in express terms the member states’ ability to withdraw from the EU and to lay down the procedures for doing so. By confirming the right of states to withdraw from the EU treaties, article 50 maintains the right of states to change their mind on withdrawal, as provided for in article 68 of the Vienna convention on the law of treaties.

I have today sent a freedom of information request to the prime minister seeking disclosure of the legal advice and asking her to waive any privilege and release it in the greater public interest. It is important that this advice is made available to the British public and its representatives in parliament as soon as possible. At any point from now, but certainly when parliament is finally faced with the likely reality; a bad deal or no deal at all, it must act in the interests of the people and order the prime minister to revoke the notification. It can do this whether or not the government says so; parliament is sovereign – in constitutional theory at least, it controls the executive; not the other way round. [Continue reading…]

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The far right is reeling in professionals, hipsters, and soccer moms

Quartz reports: Following the political earthquakes of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, commentators tried to get a better understanding of who was leading this seismic change in politics. A picture quickly emerged: angry, working class (“left behind”) men were the driving force of right-wing populism. But a year of bruising elections in Europe has highlighted an uncomfortable truth—support for the far right is far more widespread then angry, old, white working class men.

Last Sunday (Sept 24), German voters put a far-right party into parliament for the first time since the Second World War. Right-wing nationalists Alternative for Germany (AFD) won 13% of the vote, easily overcoming the 5% threshold needed to enter the German Bundestag. A previous study (link in German) showed that AFD supporters come from different social classes, including workers, families with above-average incomes, and even academics. The study concluded that what was common among AFD voters was their dislike for Angela Merkel’s so-called open-door policy to refugees.

A snapshot of where AFD voters came from highlighted the party’s ability to win over voters from a wide array of political affiliations. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (and its sister party the Christian Social Union) lost over one million voters to the AFD. But it wasn’t just right-wing voters who switched to the AFD; the center left Social Democrat lost over 500,000 (or 8.6%) of its 2013 voters to the AFD, the far left Left Party lost 420,000 (11%), and the Greens saw 50,000 defections (0.84%). Polling also showed that the AFD’s received the most votes among voters aged 33 to 44-year-old and that the party had done well with workers, and even managed to win over 10% of support from white-collar workers.

The AFD’s widespread support isn’t particularly surprising or unique. Far-right populism has always been dependent on a fragile coalition of voters—wealthy professionals, disaffected workers, and extremists—to break out of the margins and succeed. While white working class discontent is an important driving force for populism, so is anger from wealthy suburbanites and millennials. [Continue reading…]

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Macron lays out vision for ‘profound’ changes in post-Brexit EU

The Guardian reports: The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has set out his plans for a “profound transformation” of the EU with deeper political integration to win back the support of disgruntled citizens, but suggested a bloc moving forward at differing speeds could become somewhere the UK may “one day find its place again”.

Macron, a staunchly pro-European centrist who came to power in May after beating the Front National’s Marine Le Pen, pleaded for the EU to return to its founders’ “visionary” ideas, which were born out of the disaster of two world wars.

In what was hailed on Tuesday as one of the most pro-European speeches by an EU leader in years, he spoke up for common EU policies on defence, asylum and tax, called for the formation of European universities, and promised to play Ode to Joy, the EU anthem, at the Paris Olympics in 2024.

He said time was running out for the EU to reinvent itself to counter the rise of far-right nationalism and “give Europe back to its citizens”.

With Brexit looming, Macron warned the rest of Europe against the dangers of anti-immigrant nationalism and fragmentation. “We thought the past would not come back … We thought we had learned the lessons,” he told a crowd of European students at Sorbonne University in Paris.

Days after a far-right party entered the German parliament for the first time in 70 years, Macron said an isolationist attitude had resurfaced “because of blindness … because we forgot to defend Europe. The Europe that we know is too slow, too weak, too ineffective”.

Macron said he was deliberately not saying much about Brexit in his speech, but a reinvigorated EU with various levels of integration and cooperation was somewhere the UK may “one day find its place again”. He left the suggestion deliberately vague. [Continue reading…]

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Theresa May asks EU for two-year Brexit transition period

The Guardian reports: Theresa May has proposed delaying a full Brexit until 2021 by asking EU countries to agree to a two-year transition period during which the UK would continue to enjoy unfettered access to the single market.

The prime minister said the government would be prepared to accept EU rules in that time, including allowing EU citizens to live and work in Britain, submitting to European laws and continuing to pay into the EU budget.

But although her speech was described as “constructive” by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, and appeared to have placated Boris Johnson, the two-year transition plan was immediately criticised by hardline Brexiters for lasting too long – and by business groups for being too short. [Continue reading…]

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After London explosion, Trump criticizes Britain’s counterterrorism approach — for all the wrong reasons

The Washington Post reports: President Trump criticized Britain’s counterterrorism approach in several tweets on Friday morning, following a suspected terrorist attack in London that injured at least 22 people on a subway train.

Trump said authorities “must be proactive” and that attacks in Britain had been conducted by “sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard,” using a synonym for London’s Metropolitan Police. It is unclear whether Trump was tweeting about previous attackers, or about whoever was behind Friday’s incident. British Prime Minister Theresa May later commented on those remarks by Trump, saying that it was not “helpful for anybody to speculate on … an ongoing investigation.”

May’s former chief of staff, Nick Timothy, was more blunt in his criticism, writing: “True or not — and I’m sure he doesn’t know — this is so unhelpful from leader of our ally and intelligence partner.” [Continue reading…]

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What happens if Brexit negotiations don’t work?

The Atlantic reports: It’s been nearly three months, and three rounds, since Brexit negotiations began, and the parties aren’t far from where they started. The European Union’s Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier closed the last round of negotiations on August 31 by announcing that neither side had made “any decisive progress” on any of the key issues surrounding the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the bloc. His British counterpart, David Davis, was only slightly more optimistic: “We’ve seen some concrete progress. … There remains some way to go.”

Expectations for the third round weren’t high from the start; Barnier opened the talks by admitting: “To be honest, I’m concerned.” The last round, like the one preceding it, aimed at reaching some sort of breakthrough on the three major divorce issues surrounding the U.K.’s exit from the bloc—issues, such as citizens’ rights, the U.K. financial settlement, and the fate of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, that the EU insists must be addressed before the parties can move on to discussing trade and their future relationship.

It’s a lofty goal, but one both sides anticipated they could reach by October. Now, the EU isn’t so sure. “The current state of progress means we are quite far from being able to say sufficient progress has taken place—not far enough for me to be able to say to the European council that we can start to discuss the future relationship,” Barnier said.

British negotiators have argued that issues like the Irish border are inextricably linked to both sides’ future relationship, and that making progress on one necessitates making progress on the other. The U.K. isn’t exactly wrong, said Steven Peers, a professor of law at the University of Essex. “The sequencing makes things actually technically very awkward,” he told me. “There are things we can’t discuss in advance of knowing what’s going to happen in the future. It’s just not feasible to do that.”

But no resolution doesn’t mean no Brexit, and with the U.K.’s March 2019 exit date from the EU quickly approaching, neither side has the luxury of endlessly debating the timeline—especially if they want to come to an agreement on the three major divorce issues and finalize a trade deal before the two-year negotiating period concludes. So what would happen if no resolution is reached? Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London and a senior fellow at the independent research institute U.K. in a Changing Europe, told me one possible scenario is a “cliff edge” or hard Brexit, in which both parties resolve the three major divorce issues, but fail to achieve a trade agreement. Failure to do either, he told me, would lead to chaos. [Continue reading…]

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The UK’s faith in a ‘sweet Brexit’ isn’t just deluded – it’s dangerous

Joris Luyendijk writes: As the UK political class zigzags towards the abyss, saying one thing about Brexit today and another thing tomorrow, any illusions in EU capitals that the summer holiday may have brought British MPs to their senses must now be put to rest. Indeed, the daily British displays of hope for a sweet “soft Brexit” deal illustrate not only the tenacity of British self-delusion. More than that, they lay bare a persistent and dangerous ignorance of the internal logic of the EU.

Talk in British media and politics is still too often of the need for a “tough negotiator” who can deliver a great deal for Britain, keeping the benefits of single market membership without any (or many) of the obligations and costs. What is required, so the thinking goes even in most remain circles, is an acceptance on the part of the EU that it is in nobody’s interest to “punish Britain” in order to “discourage other countries from leaving”.

The first problem here is the term “single market”. Brexiteers and remainers alike seem to cling to a 19th-century notion of separate nations making their own products and trading them with other countries. The chief political project is then to lower or ideally abolish tariffs so that the so-called comparative advantages of free trade kick in.

Last week chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier called this view “nostalgic”, and for good reason. The EU is rapidly evolving into something far more ambitious than just a free trade area: it is in the process of becoming one huge economic zone governed by a single set of rules and standards and overseen by a single European court of justice, striking trade deals with the rest of the world and deriving its logic and coherence from the four famous freedoms of goods, capital, services and labour. Products such as cars, computers or aeroplanes are now built from components made in factories and production units scattered across the EU, with employees moving seamlessly between them. For this reason “single economy” is a far better term than “single market”. [Continue reading…]

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The way forward on Brexit is a new vote on whatever EU deal is reached

Andrew Adonis writes: Where there is no vision, the people perish, says the Book of Proverbs. As the slow-motion car crash of Brexit advances, we need a plan for stopping it.

Here goes. Brexit is a revolution which devours its children. Most of those who spawned or supped with it have already vanished (Cameron, Hague, Osborne) or are disappearing beneath the waves (May and the three Brexiteers: Fox, Davis and Johnson).

Month by month in Brussels, David Davis is undergoing the same political evisceration that Theresa May endured during the election campaign.

It has little to do with the cunning Michel Barnier or the crude Jean-Claude Juncker. It is the simple function of an impossible negotiating hand. Britain has been a member of the European Union for 45 years essentially on its own terms. We propose to trade that in for isolation and insularity, while Davis asks for the “exact same benefits” in terms of trade – and no exit bill. Most eight-year-olds have a better grasp of power dynamics.

Davis’s immediate problem is the exit bill. This is being portrayed as a row about figures. But the truth is he does not want to agree any figure. Whatever the number– £20bn or £50bn – he gets flayed by the right and the Mail, and the promise of £350m a month for the NHS on the side of the Leave bus has to be painted over. But if he doesn’t agree a figure, or a mechanism from which one can be calculated, there won’t be any trade deal.

So expect constant threats of walkouts which don’t materialise; though don’t rule out an impulsive Davis resignation on the pretext of being undermined by the prime minister when she, finally, has to agree a figure. These are the immediate rocks ahead, and beyond them are many more. The only question is how much damage Brexit does and how quickly.

However, that doesn’t mean that Brexit will be defeated; and it isn’t a vision of sunlit uplands. To defeat Brexit, two things are essential. [Continue reading…]

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All the worst lies about Brexit are about to be revealed

Anne Applebaum writes: It is a rare opportunity. Seldom does the voting public have the chance to watch their elected politicians confront very specific false promises in real time. Usually campaign promises are either too vague to be contrasted with reality (“Make America Great Again”) or too long term. By the time that “guaranteed growth” either arrives or doesn’t, the person who said it would happen is long out of office.

But in Britain right now, something different is unfolding. During the referendum last year, politicians advocating their country’s departure from the European Union gave some specific assurances. Some derived from ignorance; as it turned out, few of them really understood how the E.U. works. Others were lies, which they knew to be lies at the time.

Because they didn’t expect to win that campaign, they didn’t expect either their ignorance or their dishonesty to be revealed. But then they won — and now it’s happening.

The most egregious lie was about money. [Continue reading…]

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Leaked document reveals UK Brexit plan to deter EU immigrants

The Guardian reports: Britain will end the free movement of labour immediately after Brexit and introduce restrictions to deter all but highly-skilled EU workers under detailed proposals set out in a Home Office document leaked to the Guardian.

The 82-page paper, marked as extremely sensitive and dated August 2017, sets out for the first time how Britain intends to approach the politically charged issue of immigration, dramatically refocusing policy to put British workers first.

“Put plainly, this means that, to be considered valuable to the country as a whole, immigration should benefit not just the migrants themselves but also make existing residents better off,” the paper says.

It proposes measures to drive down the number of lower-skilled EU migrants – offering them residency for a maximum of only two years, in a document likely to cheer hardliners in the Tory party. Those in “high-skilled occupations” will be granted permits to work for a longer period of three to five years.

The document also describes a phased introduction to a new immigration system that ends the right to settle in Britain for most European migrants – and places tough new restrictions on their rights to bring in family members. Potentially, this could lead to thousands of families being split up. [Continue reading…]

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Piece by piece, the case for severing Britain’s ties to Europe is falling apart

Martin Kettle writes: Those who switched off with a sigh of relief in July may not have noticed. But something big is slowly stirring in the undergrowth of British politics. Fact by fact, announcement by announcement, the case for Britain to remain in the European Union’s single market and customs union is growing stronger and more irresistible by the day. Such an outcome is most definitely not this government’s policy. But, this autumn, something will have to give.

Over the past 10 days David Davis’s Brexit department has published seven so-called partnership papers: important documents covering a wide range of subjects, from customs and Northern Ireland to civil justice and, most recently, disputes mechanisms, including the role of the European Court of Justice. According to the introductory blurb inside each, these papers are all about forming a bespoke post-Brexit partnership with the EU. Yet, by intention or accident, they do something very different. Together they make a case for sticking with the existing partnership as it stands, or at least with its key arrangements, such as the single market and customs union.

In every case, the papers start from the reality of the Brexit vote and then gently proceed to undermine it. None makes the case that Britain should turn its back on the EU, as the Brexiteers would like. None heads off into the fantasy world in which nations, dazzled by British exceptionalism, queue up to make bilateral deals with Liam Fox. Instead, all seek to retain large parts of the cooperation and openness that Europe has given this country. The trajectory has shifted from go-it-alone – sometimes unbelievably so, as in the dogged refusal to recognise that the commitments to leaving the EU and maintaining an open border in Ireland are almost impossible to combine – towards the status quo. [Continue reading…]

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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…]

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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…]

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