Sunday, 27 January 2013

Harry Potter and the Colliding Worlds of the EU

The Real Harry Potter
To some Harry Potter is a fictional character in a rather successful series of children's books. Harry Potter is also one of England's finest Barristers (although he is Scottish) and presented a staggeringly good BBC TV series of documentaries on the development of English Common Law. In this he explains that Common Law, despite being a bit loose fitting at first, slow to react and notoriously non-prescriptive develops into a solid body of law with checks and balances to see justice done "beyond reasonable doubt". What's more he explains the story of English Law is never ending and self repairs where faults are found. My final Harry Potter point is that our system of Law is unique in Europe. The majority of the EU operates under a more codified and prescriptive framework. The European system is tested not by an adversarial "one verses the other" system but by inquisitive examining magistrates. I'm not suggesting one is better than the other. Both serve their purposes having been developed from their different histories. I am saying, though, that when they are pushed together one is not compatible with the other. When the embryonic European Community came into being back in the 1950's it only comprised 6 nations. With Britain's membership vetoed in the 1960's the whole membership remained under one fundamental codified legal system and so the European Directives, Regulations, etc which were drafted were easy to assimilate into their national law. In 1973 the EEC welcomed its newest members including, for the first time, a Country whose legal system was based on Common Law with its adversarial courts and binding court judgements. We hear much criticism of 'new European Regulations'. Much of these regulations are nothing of the sort as we are often referring to European Directives. Contrary to poplar belief Directives are not laws which us individuals need to comply with, they act as instructions to member states to bring in regulations through their respective national Parliaments. This works well in most of the EU which have codified, prescriptive laws and is exactly the way Directives are written. European Regulations are direct regulations on EU citizens and are merely brought in with a rubber stamp Act of Parliament which we are treaty bound to enact merely stating that it is an offence not to comply with the EU Regulation, no separate regulations are required. The system of Directives and Regulations are completely incompatible with Common Law and this must be the key negotiating point for David Cameron in the run up to a Referendum. Firstly, the European Regulation as a legislative tool must be scrapped altogether. It is wrong that binding legislation can be made for imposition on a Sovereign nation. Secondly, the UK must be permitted to apply Common Law principles when complying with European Directives. Working in Environmental Health I see a plethora of European Directives being 'enacted' as regulations all too literally. The prescriptive nature of Directives is an affront to our broad based system of primary statutes shaped by events through Judicial precedent. The UK must be allowed to demonstrate compliance with European Directives without having to bring in prescriptive legislation. Existing legislation, perhaps backed by robust codes of practice, must be allowed to be considered as compliance with Directives without the need for new regulations. A great deal of Health and Safety Regulation would never have become law had this been the case. The detailed, prescriptive regulations we now have can almost all be replaced with the single 1970's Act of Parliament, the Health and Safety at Work  Act, which is still in force and doing rather well. Such a fundamental amendment to the way the EU harmonises its legal requirements would require a leap of faith by those countries which are unfortunate enough not have Common Law. But it was a blind leap of faith taken by the UK all those years ago in which we shaped our legislation using codified law. Future negotiations by David Cameron need to put this right and make Common Law relevant in a Europe where it is just not that common.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

UKIP -Back to Obscurity

In 1987 The Sun newspaper ran a story under the title "Nightmare under Kinnock" telling what a disaster a Labour government would be to the country. In 1997 the nightmare started on a slow burn and the Labour Government sleep walked the country into financial oblivion. In this final part of a series of blogs the nightmare under a UKIP Government predictably unravels and self destructs.

The referendum campaign was now seriously derailing. "Keep UK In" campaign was plain and simple, vote to stay in the EU and negotiate from the inside. The "out" campaign was less organised. Factions started to appear even before the referendum question was published. Nigel Farage, the Prime Minister, made the Government position clear that he would be supporting an exit from EU and start negotiations for a unilateral trade agreement. His front bench publicly held the party line but it was clear that not all were convinced the EU would just roll over and let the UK negotiate without joining EFTA. The backbenchers were far more vocal insisting on a clear statement that the UK would lead talks to quickly form a Commonwealth Free Trade Agreement and others wanting EFTA membership. Farage moved quickly in an attempt to bring party unity and announced continued talks to bring about a Commonwealth Free Trade Agreement which the UK would play a 'key role' avoiding any suggestion the UK would lead the talks given India's dominance. He attempted further placation by prematurely announcing UK's membership of EFTA as an interim measure prior to CFTA membership. This was quickly thwarted by EFTA themselves. Lichtenstein in particular were concerned that the Vaduz Convention allowed free movement of people across member states. This could potentially mean the UK, with its population of 60million, would swamp smaller countries pointing out the combined population of all EFTA countries is only a third of the UK. With EFTA now ruled out and the EU now making it clear that any trade negotiation would only be with the UK as an EFTA member the options were closing. With the referendum looming Nigel Farage, upbeat as ever, had to campaign on the basis that we would exit from the EU and go it alone with no agreements laid down. Britain, initially at least, would be laid bare to tariffs and EU states protecting their own industries against British exports. This was denied by UKIP, now moving their position from "They need us more than we need them" to one of "Their bluffing, let's call their bluff". The referendum went ahead as planned, as laid out in statute. Just as the UKIP government wanted the question was a simple in/out. The campaign had split the "out campaigners" into a number of factions. The official government line was now confused with exit from the EU clear but with a very uncertain prognosis. The referendum result produced a narrow but clear victory for the "In" campaign. The Government accepted the decision of the electorate but was under considerable and very vocal pressure from the backbenchers. Their argument was that the UKIP General Election manifesto clearly had exit from the EU as its core policy. However, with their energies and focus on the referendum the economy was showing signs of faltering and with their inexperienced ministers and MP's the infighting quickly became unsustainable. Using the failure to win public support on a key manifesto pledge Nigel Farage went the Palace to resign as Prime Minister and requested the Queen dissolve Parliament. The General Election took place and Nigel Farage became the newest Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham.

Friday, 18 January 2013

UKIP in Government - the cracks start to show

In 1987 The Sun newspaper ran a story under the title "Nightmare under Kinnock" telling what a disaster a Labour government would be to the country. In 1997 the nightmare started on a slow burn and the Labour Government sleep walked the country into financial oblivion. A nightmare under UKIP would be just as disastrous.

 Campaigning started well. The UKIP Government took very early advantage of the latent anti EU sentiment which they, and others, knew was there. The campaign launch by the Prime Minister made it clear that the referendum question should be a simple in/out option. As the national debate developed it wasn't too long before serious questions were being asked. Would we be members of another free trade grouping like EFTA, would we go it alone with separate deals around the world or would we just  go it alone. The official UKIP policy, however, was to have a Swiss Style agreement with the EU without membership of EFTA and to continue negotiations to form a Commonwealth Free Trade Agreement. Fearful that this would create an isolationist feel the "Out" campaign quickly issued a statement that the UK is a powerful market in its own right and the EU relied on the UK more than UK relied on the EU so it would make no sense for them to block an independent free trade agreement with the UK. There were, though, some factors not properly considered by the Government. The EU had a say in who they had agreements with and there were some very bruised European leaders determined to block any move by the UK to exit the EU. After all UKIP themselves kept repeating the "you need us more then we need you" mantra. The front benchers had the sense to keep a diplomatic dignity about repeating this too loudly but the backbenchers were not so disciplined. The "Keep UK In" campaign within the EU was gathering pace albeit unofficial and shadowy. The very fact that the EU really needed the UK was turning into an Achilles heel and the fringe talk rapidly became open debate in Brussels. If the UK left the EU they would agree to a Swiss style agreement just like the Swiss. But this was on the condition that the UK joined EFTA, just like the Swiss. In a clearly political manoeuvre, the EU machinery had mobilised to make sure that UKIP were wrong footed and keep the UK in the EU. Pressure was now building from the UK electorate. The national debate was not a simple in/out but moreover how would you like the UK to leave the EU. The debate in Parliament on the referendum question was stalling. The in/out referendum was the very cornerstone of UKIP policy and, while at first popular, became the albatross around their neck and they were politically impotent to change it. Not for the first time the Government had to rely on abstentions to force the Bill through Parliament and an in/out referendum bill became the European Union (Referendum on UK membership) Act 2016. What started as a popular simple choice became a tool for the "In" campaign. This was the referendum which would answer a question nobody asked.

Next - UKIP, Back to Obscurity

Thursday, 17 January 2013

UKIP in Government - The First 100 days

In 1987 The Sun newspaper ran a story under the title "Nightmare under Kinnock" telling what a disaster a Labour government would be to the country. In 1997 the nightmare started on a slow burn and the Labour Government sleep walked the country into financial oblivion. Following part 1, part 2 of this series of Blogs looks at the first 100 days of a nightmare UKIP government.

Nigel Farage has been very well received in Downing Street reminiscent of Tony Blair’s “A new dawn has broken has it not” and Margaret Thatcher’s Francis of Assisi speech. The Honeymoon period, or what the tabloids had quipped “Farage the Fantastic” was well underway. After the applause and the novelty of the first new party in majority Government since 1945 it’s down to business. The first priority is for the UKIP Chancellor to introduce an emergency budget. With Labour’s minority Government being forced to continue the Coalition’s austerity policy the economy had been improving steadily with no return to recession and increasing growth year on year so the need for an emergency budget was highly questionable. Nonetheless UKIP were keen to fulfil their manifesto pledge of introducing a flat tax rate and merging income tax with national insurance. Along with other measures the Finance Bill was passed but only just. Expected support from the Conservatives was not solid. Although the coalition had introduced the universal benefit and a flat rate state pension there was still significant expenditure within the welfare system based on NI contributions. A hurried amendment to the Finance Bill scrapping all remaining contributory benefits and links to National Insurance was passed but only through large opposition abstentions from all parties.  Later that year Prime Minister, Nigel Farage, took an early opportunity at a London meeting of the Commonwealth Secretariat to raise the subject of forming a Commonwealth Free Trade Area. Although not part of the agenda the idea had long been trailed by UKIP. Their manifesto said that this would be negotiated at the earliest opportunity and Government backbenchers piled pressure on the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister himself to start talks. Of the Commonwealth member states, India proved UKIP's most ardent ally but the talks did not go as anticipated. With it's rapid economic growth, the Indian Government had developed a strong nationalist fervour and the delegation had long agreed that a CFTA would enhance this. As by far the largest country in the Commonwealth, they insisted they should lead negotiations and it must be based on the growing Indian economy. As a potentially major export market the Canadian and Australian Governments were happy to agree to India’s proposal. Out voted and out witted the Prime Minster reluctantly agreed that exploratory talks to establish a CFTA should take place in New Delhi prior to the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2017. Reporting back to his cabinet, leading Government front benchers were less than impressed that the UK would not be at the forefront of any CFTA and that India was setting the tone and pace of negotiations. The Honeymoon period for Nigel Farage, now being called Farage’s Folly was starting to fade but they produced their flagship policy – a Bill to hold a referendum on membership of the EU. The Bill passed easily with the Conservatives and Socialists voting with the Government. Only the Labour opposition front bench voted against. Observing Salisbury Rules the Lords passed the Bill and the legal processes had been completed. There will be a referendum on the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Next - UKIP in Government, The Cracks Start to Show

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Nigel Farage - Prime Minister

In 1987 The Sun newspaper ran a story under the title "Nightmare under Kinnock" telling what a disaster a Labour government would be to the country. In 1997 the nightmare started on a slow burn and the Labour Government sleep walked the country into financial oblivion. This series of Blogs looks at how a UKIP government would be just as nightmarish and how we mustn't let ourselves be sleepwalked into oblivion again.

The 2015 General Election proved just as unsatisfactory and inconclusive as the election in 2010. The result was, however, fascinating to the non-partisan politico. The collapse of the Lib Dems returned only 9 MP’s to Westminster losing all those who were cabinet ministers in the previous Coalition government including the former Deputy Prime Minister punished by students with long memories causing him to just about hold on to his deposit. The main benefactor in terms of seats were the Labour Party who became the largest party but in a hung Parliament. The surprise were the UK Independence Party who won their first seats. Nigel Farage produced a result by winning a seat after failing to do so in 2010. Labour under the leadership of Prime Minister Ed Miliband formed a minority Government with no party having the political will to form yet another Coalition which proved so self-destructive in the previous Parliament.

Now in 2016, with the minority government unable to push through their manifesto the Labour Leader controversially exercised Royal Prerogative by asking the Queen to dissolve Parliament and call a General Election in defiance of the fixed term rules in an attempt to form a majority Government. Expectant of a 1966 style election it spectacularly back fired. In the lead up to the 2016 snap election, many Conservatives switched allegiance to UKIP and some, unable to reconcile their political conscience and despite being incumbent MP’s stood as little more than paper candidates allowing UKIP to take seat after seat. The shock result in 2016 is a UKIP administration albeit with a wafer thin majority. Bolstered by some support from the remaining Conservative MP’s they are able to form a meaningful majority government. Nigel Farage goes to the Palace, kisses hands and becomes the Queen’s 14th Prime Minister.