Thursday, 14 July 2016

Brexit is safe under May, it's everything else we need to watch

So now that the reshuffle is complete and our new Prime Minister has created her cabinet, I thought I'd compile my thoughts on Theresa May becoming the latest resident of 10 Downing Street. She wasn't my first choice, in fact at one point I was very much 'anyone but May', for a number of reasons that I shall outline here. Some of those concerns have been addressed already, others have not.

The first and, to a certain extent, overriding issue was that of Brexit. May had been a supporter of our continued EU membership and campaigned for such in the run up to the referendum, albeit in a relatively low-key manner. Given the calls in the immediate aftermath of the vote for the result to be ignored, overturned, or even run again, having a Remainer take the helm for the process of leaving the EU put me somewhat on edge. Despite several flaws, Gove was my preferred candidate of those that ran for the Tory leadership, by virtue of his having campaigned for leaving. Once the contest was whittled down to two, I didn't really know who to back. May may have been a Remainer, but Leadsom wanted us to be out of the EU by the spring, a ridiculous timetable that had no basis in reality. Coupled with her apparently devout Christianity and refusal to deny stories stating that God speaks directly to her, I found myself erring towards the former Home Secretary over a delusional amateur. Fortunately, during the short-lived leadership campaign, May was saying the right things. declaring in her campaign launch speech that 'Brexit means Brexit, and we're going to make a success of it.' The key part of that speech, for me, was this:

"So many of our political and business leaders have responded by showing that they still don't get it. There are politicians, democratically elected politicians, who seriously suggest that the government should find a way of ignoring the referendum result, and keep Britain inside the European Union. And there are business leaders, whose response has been, not to plan for Britain's departure or to think of the opportunities that withdrawal presents, but to complain about the result, and criticise the electorate. Well I couldn't be clearer. Brexit means Brexit, and we're going to make a success of it. There will be no attempts to remain inside the EU. There will be no attempts to rejoin it by the back door, no second referendum, the country voted to leave the European Union and as Prime Minister I will make sure that we leave the European Union."

This was important to hear, and was very welcome. It was also good to hear her back the electorate and the democratic process, against those such as David Lammy, who seek to ignore the biggest democratic event this country has ever seen. This cautious optimism was reinforced when May named her Brexit-backing cabinet members on Wednesday evening, with Boris as foreign secretary, Liam Fox heading up the newly created Department for International Trade and perhaps most crucially, David Davis as Minster for Exiting the European Union. The mere creation of these latter two departments would be enough to put my mind at ease but the positioning of pro-Brexit ministers in these departments sends a clear signal that we truly are leaving the EU. Bad news for europhiles hoping to ignore democracy, but great news for democrats and Brexiteers alike.

Not that it will be plain sailing from here on out. Davis sees the WTO option as a viable path for Brexit, and the new chancellor Philip Hammond has also previously mentioned leaving the single market. This is a non-starter, because it's not tariffs that are the issue, but rather regulatory harmonisation. This is why I've been an advocate of Flexcit throughout the referendum, and it was good to see it's author Dr Richard North, addressing the Treasury Committee this week, laying out the sensible approach to our withdrawal. This is where the real work will take place and I'll be looking to post in more detail about that committee in the coming days. So whilst they're not without their issues, May's appointments have at least put my mind at ease over Brexit. Hopefully those appointees will pursue a truly global free trade agenda over the coming months and years.

My biggest issue worry with May is in the realm of civil liberties. She has been one of the most illiberal and authoritarian Home Secretaries we've had in decades. May opted us back into the European Arrest Warrant, an appalling apparatus that rides roughshod over the principle of habeas corpus. During the coalition, she introduced the Data Retention Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA), which, without prior public consultation, sought to restrict internet freedom and was eventually ruled to be unlawful. Then there is the Investigatory Powers Bill, aka the 'Snooper's Charter' which greatly expands government surveillance and poses a real threat to privacy, and journalistic integrity. It's a truly draconian bill, whose powers are available not only to domestic law enforcement and security agencies - who haven't actually asked for the powers - but to any government department, such as HMRC, for practically any purpose, giving the state the legal power to check browser histories and hack every device you use from your smart TV to your satnav. There's also no judicial oversight, with the present form of the bill allowing the Prime Minister to appoint a body to authorise warrants and audit it's own work. The more you read about it the more horrifying it becomes. It's well worth checking out Don't Spy On Us and support their work in helping to fight against this truly Orwellian piece of legislation.

On top of this we have the threat to free speech contained within Extremism Disruption Orders, which May has overseen as Home Secretary. The incredibly vague definition of 'extremism' means there's a real threat to the orders being issued for legitimate expressions of opinion, and not just for security purposes. Home office minister Karen Bradley gave a baffling performance at the Joint Committee on human rights which prompted an alarmed response from campaign group Defend Free Speech.

David Davis was one minister who helped orchestrate the legal case against DRIPA and has a relatively decent record on civil liberties. One hopes he can act as an important voice in the cabinet against May's authoritarian tendencies. Whilst she may no longer be home secretary, the appointment of the relatively beige Amber Rudd to the post suggests that May intends to keep a close eye on the department and press ahead with the current policy direction. Let's hope the likes of Davis, as well as organisations such as Don't Spy On Us and The Freedom Association (who I plan on joining shortly) can help put pressure where it's most needed.

It's not just in the realm of surveillance in which our new Prime Minister is pushing a big government agenda though. Her leadership campaign speech also set out policies for curbing big business that Ed Miliband would be proud of. Controls on chief executive pay, workers on boards - these are the kind of policies that Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute rightly points out voters rejected at the last election, and for good reason. She might be only the second female Prime Minister this country has seen, but free market Thatcherite May is not. The appointment of the Heseltinian Hammond to the Treasury reinforces this.

Brexit appears to be in decent hands, or should be once the real work begins and political nonsenses can be put aside, but when it comes to domestic policy, we shall have to keep a very close eye on the new Tory leader.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The 'March for Europe' is a march against democracy

This weekend has seen thousands of Remain voters (or if you prefer, 0.01% of the electorate) descend on London to protest against the referendum result last week. The 'March for Europe' event, is a culmination of a week of anti-democratic, sneering contempt from those on the losing side in the referendum. We have seen over 4 million people sign a petition for a second referendum. Ignoring the fact that that's still roughly 13.4 million short of being even remotely relevant, many of those signatures were found to have been added by bots, including 39,000 from Vatican City, which has a population of 800. This is probably why the petition is being investigated for fraud. Not content with leading the Lib Dems to a glorious 6% in the polls, and abandoning any pretence of being liberal or democratic, Tim Farron announced that his party would stand in the next general election on a platform of taking us back into the EU. David Lammy, a Labour MP, has already called for Parliament to ignore the result, and there has been a wailing across social media, from the public and celebrities alike, for the Government to do just that. Shockingly, the UN Special Representative for International Migration, Peter Sutherland, has said ‘somehow this result must be overturned’. The UN rightly condemns African or Asian dictators who ride roughshod over the will of their populace, yet when it comes to Britain, they're apparently calling for exactly that. The whole thing has been frankly ludicrous. Remainers would be rightly uproarious had the referendum result been reversed and parliament decided to ignore them and leave the EU anyway, but they see no problem in calling for our politicians to ignore the majority of the electorate in this instance. There's a huge irony in these people calling for as many people to register to vote and make their voice heard in the run up to this event, only for them to then call for those voices to be roundly ignored, despite leaving the EU gaining more votes in favour than anything else in British history.

Because if there was one thing that this vote represented, it was the will of the people. The issue has engaged more people in politics than anything I've ever seen. My Facebook feed is usually full of daft (if occasionally hilarious) memes and videos of dogs doing pointless yet adorable things, and yet in the run up to the referendum I saw a plethora of posts and articles from people who are usually much more content informing us all about the make-up of their dinner. This engagement was reflected in the turnout, which was higher than it has been for any plebiscite in over 20 years. Add to that the fact the winning margin was over 1.2 million votes and the claim that there is no mandate for leaving is as accurate as a blind man in a darts competition. The argument that many Brexiteers are now regretting their vote is also laughable when you consider that the source of this argument is a poll stating that 1% of leave voters are unhappy with the result. The same poll indicates that 4% of remain voters are happy with the result, indicating a greater regret about their vote amongst those that voted to remain than those that voted to leave.

Much of the argument has centred around the claim that the Leave campaign was full of lies and voters were misinformed and thus should be ignored. That argument is staggeringly patronising. All of us, on both sides of the debate, had access to the exact same information. Moreover, this wasn't a snap referendum. Cameron gave his Bloomberg speech in which he set out his plans for a referendum in January 2013, over three years ago. The Conservatives won the election last May so from that second we knew a referendum was definitely coming and thus could begin looking into the issue and trying to make ourselves as informed as possible. I'm not for one second claiming that everyone who voted was an expert on the EU, but the insinuation from Remainers that they did their homework and Leavers were somehow brainwashed by propaganda is outrageously arrogant. There were of course lies and misinformation from Vote Leave, but there was just as much from Stronger In, and they had the weight of the Government behind theirs to boot. I personally voted the way I did in spite of Vote Leave, not because of them, and I know many others who are in the same boat. There's something laughable about the suggestion too, given that the title of this protest once again conflates the EU with Europe. It seems churlish to point out, but we are not altering the UK's geography. Not one person on the leave side has advocated cutting ourselves off from the world, turning inwards, or becoming 'Little Englanders'. The argument has always been about a global Britain, looking out towards more distant horizons than those across the English channel. We have always advocated trade and co-operation with our friends and allies on the continent. Ironically, by buying into the notion that the UK is leaving Europe rather than merely extricating ourselves from a supranational political institution, Remainers have succumbed to the very brainwashing they accuse their opponents of. Claiming that one should love the EU if one loves Europe is like claiming I should love Flintshire County Council because I am fond of my home county. It is a nonsense.

There's also an argument that the whole point of the sovereignty of Parliament is to keep a check on the whims of the electorate. Funnily enough, I actually think that it's the whole point of the electorate to keep a check on the whims of Parliament. Ironically, it's precisely this argument which is why people like myself voted to Leave in the first place. The EU was deliberately designed so as to not be susceptible to the populism that brought Hitler to power in the wake of the first world war. But that lack of accountability to the electorate is precisely what's facilitated the rise of populism, both left and right wing, across the continent. When people get angry at those that rule them, and have no recourse through the ballot box to remove them, then they inevitably get drawn to the more extreme ends of the political spectrum. According to polling by both Ashcroft and ComRes, the number one priority for leave voters wasn't immigration, but democracy and sovereignty. This howling against the democratic will of the people is precisely why we voted to leave, so that our law makers and tax raisers would be accountable to us. Advocating parliament to ignore the result of the referendum and plough on with EU membership and all the integration that entails regardless, risks unleashing something very ugly in this country. If lefties hate UKIP now, they would only see the popularity of Farage's party soar in the wake of such an act. It would also exponentially increase the feeling that a vote counts for little and makes no real difference. There were no 'safe seats' in this referendum. Every single vote counted towards the result. If that result is ignored, there could well be riots, or worse, complete and total disengagement and apathy towards politics on a scale we've never seen.

I pushed for a leave vote because I believe that the electorate should decide how we are run, and should take that decision through the ballot box. I believe that Brexit has the potential to truly revolutionise our democracy, getting people more involved in politics and making our politicians more accountable. This idea that our rulers know best and the little people should shut up and let the politicians get on with it is exactly the idea we're trying to defeat.