Too much short-termism, too much reacting to events…

From Mark Bennister (Reader in Politics, CCCU) and Ben Worthy (Lecturer in Politics, Birkbeck, University of London). This commentary was published first on PSA Insight blog.

 

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Politics watchers in the UK can take a deep breath as Parliament staggered over the line to the recess last week following a particularly frantic period of topsy turvy politics. Cabinet resignations, more knife edge votes (including a government defeat), a breakdown of the ‘usual channels’ for pairing, and at last a white paper as negotiating position that has seemed to satisfy no one. The Prime Minister is hanging on in power, just. As the SNPs Angus MacNeil said at Liaison Committee ‘You are a survivor, Prime Minister. I often think of Gloria Gaynor when I look at you’. We may never know if Theresa May also quoted the song to Boris Johnson, ‘(‘Cause) you’re not welcome anymore, weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye’. ‘I will survive’ is apt, released as it was in 1978, a time of comparable political upheaval. Survival is however not an end in itself. How did we get into such a shambolic political mess? British politics used to be so dull and predictable.

One answer is weak leadership. Of course all prime ministers need to count when the parliamentary arithmetic is so tight, but it is possible to drive the agenda in a minority (just ask Helen Clark how she did it in New Zealand). As prime minister, you have the trappings and resources of office and can utilise them to shape the agenda. Likewise the opposition Labour Party has a party machine at its disposal and has space to set out an alternative path. Both main parties are stuck in an unhealthy inertia. In the wake of two high profile resignations it is worth reminding ourselves of the words of Norman Lamont on resigning in 1994:

‘…there is too much short-termism, too much reacting to events, and not enough shaping of events. We give the impression of being in office but not in power. Far too many important decisions are made for 36 hours’ publicity. Yes, we are politicians as well as policy-makers; but we are also the trustees of the nation.’

Let’s not forget, the Liberal Democrats couldn’t even arrange for their own leader and former leader to vote on the Customs Bill last week. Nicola Sturgeon has also struggled with her own leadership in Scotland with a botched reshuffle and ditched education policy plus the party has struggled to gain any traction at Westminster. British politics used to have certainty and order, now we have indecision and obfuscation. Parties and leaders are suffering from an existential crisis, unable or unwilling be the ‘trustees of the nation’, not leading but awaiting events. Why is this?

 

Personal failings

We have written that three core elements work to ensure leaders have a stock of leadership capital. However you wouldn’t buy shares in Corbyn or May at the moment, or Vince Cable for that matter. They fail on all three aspects: skills, relations and reputation. On skills, leaders cannot seem to articulate a persuasive vision of where we are heading or how we will get there. They have failed to ‘teach reality’ regarding where we are heading and how we will get there. There is little positive direction being mapped out. Instead we are trapped, forever repeating knife edge votes, mantras about the will of the people and complex ‘novel’ customs ideas that are all destined to fail and then fail again and again. On the government side we can return to that Lamont speech for one explanation…

‘There is something wrong with the way in which we make our decisions. The Government listen too much to the pollsters and the party managers.’

On relations, they have failed to build alliances inside or outside their own parties. Therefore political parties are at the mercy of small groups of rebels and the government depends on the DUP to stay in power. Relations beyond parliament, for instance with business and pressure groups are fractured. On reputation, they have struggled to get things done. The context of minority government and Brexit may constrain, but they are following as paralysis sets in on domestic policy.

 

Representative confusion

The Referendum result has altered the way MPs and indeed parties and leaders interact and engage with voters. The lines of accountability used to be clear but now in whose interests are leaders acting? They appear hamstrung by the result, unable to forge positive narratives or make decisions as Lamont bemoaned in 1994. Time after time politicians, most notably the Prime Minister, hide behind ‘delivering on the people’s vote’ – whatever that is. This is following not leading. As Ronald Heifetz famously observed the essence of exercising leadership is about disappointing people at a rate they can stand, rather just office-holding. Political capital needs to be spent. Yet occupying office is what is happening. There is a crisis of representation. MPs continually cite the will of their own constituency to justify a leave or remain or soft or hard Brexit stance. Others such as Iain Duncan Smith and Kate Hoey – two MPs openly causing trouble for their own leadership – choose to ignore their constituency voices on Brexit as they inconveniently contradict their own entrenched positions.

 

No control

Back seat (or even front seat drivers) are currently working against the ethos of public leadership. Leadership binds parliamentary parties together, which are after all amalgamations of factional interests. They must also inspire members, supporters and voters. Ideology of course cuts across parties, but now approaches to Brexit have added a new faultline. So we see the government win a crucial third reading division with the support of 4 Labour votes, while Anna Soubry and Nicholas Soames call for a centrist ‘sensible’ alliance across parties. All of this undermines party leadership and policy direction as backbench MPs and cabinet ministers act as autonomous agents. Parties become more fractured and political leadership disconnected. The sight of whips chasing around the chamber persuading their own side not to rebel is a desperate example of how little control parliamentary parties have at present.

And so on control, there is a deep irony as the ‘take back control’ refrain has been shown up as a mirage. Who is taking back control? Of what? As 1978 may have felt the end of days for Labour, at the mercy of events, 1994 saw Major too only surviving, now May is in a similar bind. The Conservative party and parliament as an institution have neither the capacity nor leadership means to exercise real authority and control. Indeed someone really does need to accumulate and spend political capital and soon, perhaps it is the Prime Minister as the Government in a written statement announced that she will lead negotiations with the EU, taking resources from DEXEU. So perhaps the stirring of the exercise of authority from the centre?

The July 2018 White Paper: Carte Blanche or Tabula Rasa?

From Amelia Hadfield (Professor in European and International Relations) and Christian Turner (CEFEUS Research Assistant)

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It finally came. The day prior to her two-year anniversary as Prime Minister, Theresa May finally unveiled the 104-page document on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union. The White Paper, officially entitled ‘The Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union’[1] which has to date caused the resignation of two Secretaries of State, 3 junior Ministers and two Vice-Chairs of the Conservative Party, is threatening to split the Tories in a way not seen since the Maastricht Treaty did during the 1990s. This reflects the tough balancing act May has been forced to strike throughout her Premiership, between Tories old and new, left and right, and fundamentally, pro and anti-Brexit.

The Brexit spectrum has hardened in the past two years, both within Parliament, and in the country at large. For some, the rudimentary in/out polarity still determines their stance. For others, the spectrum consists of May’s speeches[2], and her red lines: extracting Britain from both the EU Single Market and the Customs Union, ending freedom of movement and the jurisdiction of EU courts, reducing net payments to the EU budget, and striking free trade agreements.

The White Paper’s Chequered Past

This brings us to the histrionics of the Chequers Cabinet summit on 6 July. Designed as the foundation for the subsequent White Paper, the Chequers agreement is made up of 12 key principles for future UK/EU negotiations. From May’s perspective, the Chequers deal had to be palatable for the full spectrum of the Conservative Party, clear enough to resonate with Parliament more broadly, and persuasive enough for Brussels to buy it. To do so, the deal also had to retain May’s infamous red lines, while minimising disruption to British jobs and British trade.

Substantively, the Chequers deal represents a last-ditch attempt to solve the fiendishly tricky customs and border issue. Those of us fascinated with the differences between the two models proposed initially last summer by the Department for Exiting the European Union will recall both New Customs Partnership (NCP), and the Maximum Facilitation Agreement (Max Fac). The former closely aligns Britain’s approach to the customs border with that of the EU, effectively removing the need for UK-EU customs border (cost: £3.4 billion with a five year set-up); the latter continues some of the existing arrangements, but relies more heavily upon technology and trusted trader status (cost: £20 billion, 3 years to implement).

Combining the two produces the current Facilitated Customs Agreement (FCA), an evolved Mansion House model[3] that retains the NCP’s goal of levying a UK import tax on finished imported goods entering or leaving the UK and collecting EU import taxes on behalf of the EU (refunding the difference to the EU). This model is combined with MaxFac’s technology-intensive tool to track the avalanche of incoming goods to the UK.

A Whiter Shade of Pale  

Procedurally, May’s balancing act relied upon the parliamentary arithmetic needed to get the bills[4] through. This was laid asunder a day or two before the White Paper even reached Parliament, with the resignation of Brexit Secretary David Davis and FCO Secretary Boris Johnson, both of whom resigned in protest at the nature of the Chequers deal, essentially viewing it as too closely aligned with the EU. When the White Paper itself arrived in Parliament under new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, the central talking point was the creation of a Customs Union of Goods and the overhauled Facilitated Customs Agreement. Supporters argued that the eventual goal of a combined customs territory would ultimately minimise friction and reduce the cost to business. Critics argued that the overall connection with the EU was still far too close, with a bureaucratically nightmarish twin-track approach. As we suggested recently in our evidence to Parliament, for Kent, a friction-free, ‘customs-lite’ deal is crucial to ensure the 4.2 million lorries that currently travel through the county continue to move freely without damaging delays[i].

Underlying the customs deal is the White Paper’s suggestion to create a common rule book establishing a free trade zone for industrial and agricultural goods that essentially follows the EU’s regulations for goods. Supporters here argue that EU rules and regulations on goods have over the past 40 years evolved and remained stable, and that British businesses have no desire to see them changed. Opponents argue that again, the relationship with the EU remains too cosy, and may alter the nature of prospective free trade deals with other countries and regions.

There is also the issue of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The White Paper insists that overall EU jurisdiction would end. In reference to the Common Rule Book for instance, a Joint Committee would be formed by the EU and UK to handle disputes. However, should the Committee be unable to resolve an issue, the matter could be referred to the CJEU for ‘interpretations’. Brexiters fear that this could create a situation where the EU constantly refers matters to the CJEU, and in turn, essentially keeps the UK tied to the canon of EU law. However, it should be noted that it is difficult to see how else a deep free trade agreement with the EU, in particular with a bespoke Customs Union, could operate without a joint legal entity. Even the European Free Trade Association has its own court[5] to settle issues, and it may be that the UK way have to work within something similar.

Finally, the Government has outlined its views on immigration post-Brexit, once again insisting it will end Freedom of Movement for EU citizens. However, the White Paper does offer concessions. Firstly, it calls for visa-free travel for tourists and ‘temporary workers’. Also – importantly for those of us in academia – the White Paper also broadly supports student mobility, with a reference to UK and EU citizens being able to move reciprocally to study and work, presumably on the basis of a visa or waiver system. The White Paper also supports both the EU and UK being able to ‘move their talented people’. There is however an unappetising degree of UKIP-style rhetoric on immigration in the White Paper, with its focus on high-skilled Western Europeans rather than low-skilled multi-sectoral, multi-regional citizens, both west and east.

 

When is an Association Agreement not an Association Agreement?

Beyond key issues regarding the economy and communities, the White Paper makes clear references to avoiding a hard Irish border, devolving appropriate powers, and the removal of Britain from EU institutions. It also outlines Britain’s wish to continue standards convergence on goods (see above), its ongoing participation in EU agencies (chemical, aviation and medicines), is gloriously vague on the types of equivalence to facilitate trade in services (80% of the British economy), and makes further overtures about a UK-EU security partnership. Taken together, the template is one that many non-EU states currently have with the EU, called an association agreement with the EU.

Ironically, Association Agreements[6] are a long-standing tool that the EU has developed with neighbouring states (e.g. North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe) to facilitate and deepen relations with the EU. Prime Minister May famously ruled out an EU-UK Association Agreement in her 2017 Lancaster Speech, but the July 2018 White Paper looks stunningly like one at present. Indeed, with the clear objective of establishing a relationship with the EU that is “broader in scope than any other that exists between the EU and a third country”[ii] (p.7), the White Paper seems to be suggesting an advanced Association Agreement.

Parliament Redux: The return of the ‘bastards’

As outlined in Part 1 of this blog, the White Paper, and the Chequers agreement before it, represents both the most detailed explanation to date of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, and the embodiment of the enormous domestic tensions that surround this issue. Nowhere is the atmosphere more febrile than Parliament itself. May’s various Brexit set pieces – speeches, red lines, D’EXEU papers, etc. – have done little to heal the rifts in the House or in the Conservative Party.

Euroscepticism remains a key component of the contemporary Conservative Party. It greatly hampered John Major’s Premiership in the 1990s, with Major himself labelling his rebellious colleagues ‘bastards’, believed to be referring to Michael Howard, Peter Lilley and Michael Portillo. In terms of transforming the White Paper into legislation, May too has her own bastards to contend with, the most convincing of which is the increasingly authoritative European Research Group (ERG), chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

As the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill returned to the House of Commons on Monday 16th July, the ERG sponsored three major amendments, with a fourth amendment led by Labour’s Kate Hoey on the Northern Irish border[iii].

The two most controversial amendments sought to prevent the UK remaining in the Customs Union overall unless the Government introduced primary legislation through Parliament, and secondly, EU-wide reciprocity in the collection of VAT and some tariffs. The former represented a clear signal that a large proportion of the Conservative Party will still not tolerate a ‘soft Brexit’ (by providing MPs an opportunity to vote it down). The latter undermined the White Paper’s customs union proposal by insisting that all 27 EU member states would have to collect the appropriate taxes on the behalf of the UK, as the UK itself was proposing to do for the EU (rendering the model increasingly impossible in practice).

The amendment argued for a British VAT regime independent of the EU, while the Hoey amendment rejected wholesale the concept of a border in the Irish Sea between the UK and Northern Ireland, and. The VAT issue opens the door for post-Brexit Britain raising or lowering VAT on certain products, which could cause border delays for certain goods.[7] The Irish Sea amendment meanwhile effectively scuppers the government’s approval of the Commission’s current proposal for a Brexit Backstop plan for Northern Ireland (i.e. allowing it to remain in the Customs Union and if possible, the Single Market).

Nil Desperandum Auspice.. Negotiations?

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Apparently. Sensing imminent defeat just hours before the votes, May (again) struck (another) deal and stated that the amendments (conveniently) matched ‘Government Policy’[iv]. However, Conservative Remainers, including Anna Soubry and Kenneth Clarke, in turn threatened to rebel, insisting that the amendments made the White Paper unworkable. The conclusion? A win of just three votes on the Customs Union and VAT amendments. Indeed, the vote was so tight that had certain events unfolded differently (e.g. Liberal Democrats Vince Cable and Tim Farron attending the votes, Conservative Chief Whip Julian Smith actually upholding the Parliamentary pairing agreement, Ian Paisley’s suspension), May could easily have lost on the veru amendments she had accepted at the last moment.

In the days that have followed, May saw off the Remainers on all tabled amendments, bar the European Medicines Agency[v], although happily the latte corresponds with Government policy (at least for now). In truth, this has been a bruising month for the Prime Minister. She has lost a profusion of ministers, while the 1922 Committee continues to keep alive the threat of a leadership. Labour remains riven on Brexit and ideological matters, and the Conservatives themselves remain polarised, amidst indications of a recent rise in UKIP support[vi].  To ensure that the White Paper and its legislation survives the summer, May and her ministers have undertaken a spate of diplomatic forays to Germany, France, Spain and Italy and beyond, to highlight its practicable aspects, despite chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier suggesting that much in it remains unworkable[vii].  The White Paper may have much to recommend it, not least its softer Brexit components. But with just nine months left to negotiate Britain’s departure, and time still needed to navigate the departure bill through the UK and EU Parliament, it is possible that the White Paper is simply too little, too late.

[1] ‘The Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union’, HM Government, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/725288/The_future_relationship_between_the_United_Kingdom_and_the_European_Union.pdf

[2] Lancaster House, 17th January 2017; Florence Speech, 22nd September 2017; Munich Security Conference, 17th February 2018, Mansion House speech, 2nd March 2018

[3] https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/07/can-brexiteers-stomach-mays-brexit-blueprint/

[4] European Union (Approvals) Act, 7th December 2017; EU (Withdrawal Bill), 29th June 2018; Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Act 2017, 20th July 2018

[5] http://www.eftacourt.int/

[6] http://eeas.europa.eu/archives/docs/association/docs/agreements_en.pdf

[7] Despite Switzerland having a Customs Union with the EU for instance, goods still require processing at the border to ensure that the necessary VAT is paid. Whilst Switzerland has a land border with four EU member states, the vast majority of goods currently travel by sea and rail via busy points such as Dover and Folkestone. Any delays could bring serious repercussions to the British economy.

[i] http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/transport-committee/freight-and-brexit/written/84401.pdf

[ii] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/725288/The_future_relationship_between_the_United_Kingdom_and_the_European_Union.pdf

[iii] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/11/brexit-hardliners-demand-amendments-to-trade-bill

[iv] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/16/theresa-may-narrowly-avoids-defeat-after-caving-in-to-rees-mogg

[v] https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/17/theresa-may-sees-off-rebellion-customs-union-amendment-defeated&sa=U&ved=0ahUKEwj76La-573cAhWHBZoKHTtuB3IQFggIMAE&client=internal-uds-cse&cx=007466294097402385199:m2ealvuxh1i&usg=AOvVaw0tySbN99Ko51Gw032kQuLn

[vi] https://britainelects.com/polling/westminster/

[vii] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/44964521

“Terveisiä Helsingistä”: What happened in Finland during the Helsinki Summit?

From Noora Virtanen – CEFEUS Postgraduate Analyst

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It has been a bit over a week now since the 16th July summit when American President Donald Trump met Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, in Helsinki, Finland. The Helsinki Summit definitely gained a lot of media attention, not just in Finland but all around the world. Furthermore, Finns saw this as a great opportunity to show the world Helsinki at its best. While I’m mostly surrounded by the British press, I could not help but take a sneak peek to what the Finnish press was saying about the visit.

  1. “Welcome to the land of free press”

Both the Finnish press and social media reported widely the Helsingin Sanomat campaign promoting the importance of free press. As the biggest newspaper in Finland, Helsingin Sanomat had put up 300 billboards with news titles from 2008 to 2018 commenting on the Presidents attitudes on the issue. One of the most notable ones said “Mr.President, welcome to the land of free press”. Other billboards included texts, such as “Trump calls media enemy of the people”, “Putin is trying again to bring the media to heel” (in Russian), and many others. According to the editor-in-chief Kaius Niemi, the campaign was aimed at welcoming the Presidents to Finland, but also to draw attention to both Presidents’ attitudes on freedom of press. Billboards like these continue the media attention Helsinki gained in November 2016 from the British press after a well-known two-day start-up festival called Slush and the Helsinki tourist board put up a sign at the Helsinki Airport to welcome arrivals. The sign said: “Nobody in their right mind would come to Helsinki in November. Except you, you badass. Welcome.” This portrays well the very essence of Finnish humour. The international media has been both negative and positive of the billboards put up for the Helsinki Summit.

  1. What did the Presidents actually talk about?

Yle, Finland’s national public broadcasting company, wrote a summary of the Helsinki Summit highlighting the topics discussed and their impact. The article mentions President Trump’s invitation to host President Putin in Washington in the autumn to discuss national security, and how this impacts the international community’s attempts to isolate Russia. The involvement of Russia in the US Presidential elections and President Trumps comments at the press conference were also addressed. The article mentions that the two discussed to an extent Ukraine, Syria and reviving economic relations outside the sanctions. Finally, the article notes that despite the first strong comments against President Trump’s performance in Helsinki caused the Republicans and Democrats to unite on criticising his actions, 68% of Republicans approved his actions in a recent CBS opinion poll.

  1. The costs of the Helsinki Summit

Some of the Finnish media also addressed the cost of hosting this Summit. According to Uusi Suomi, there were 1,500 reporters from all around the world to report on the Helsinki Summit. It has been estimated that just facilitating the media, providing security and other costs were around 3.5 million Euros. However, the benefits of hosting the Summit are seen to outweigh the costs. The Summit was seen as an opportunity for Finland to promote its commitment to peaceful conflict resolution through formal negotiations and increase the world’s awareness of Finland being a land of much more than just Lapland and reindeers. While the exact revenue brought in by the Summit won’t be clear until later, experts are hopeful about the Summit’s impact on the Finnish economy.

  1. The First Ladies

The meeting of the two First Ladies was also closely followed by the media. According to Yle, while Melania Trump did not have a formal schedule for her Helsinki visit, the two First Ladies had a breakfast meeting. It was reported that they discussed the welfare of children and young people, and the Finnish welfare state for example. The media also reported on both of their outfits, with Melania Trump wearing a Gucci jacket and Jenni Haukio wearing a dress that was Finnish design. One of the headlines mentions how both of their outfits had butterflies on them. This caused some criticism in the social media regarding the role of gender in media reporting.

The response from Finnish Politicians was mainly positive. The Finnish Prime Minister commented on the Helsinki Summit on Twitter saying that he is “happy to note the #Helsinki2018 went well. It was an honor for my government to provide supporting facilities for the meeting hosted by President Niinistö. During these times rules based international cooperation and dialogues is extremely important for all of us”. A Finnish MEP Heidi Hautala, on the other hand, thanks the Helsingin Sanomat for their billboard campaign and says that “This campaign of yours will not be forgotten”. Another Finnish MEP, Petri Sarvamaa, tweeted that “The president of the United States siding with the Russian president is the gravest crisis between the two countries since Cuba 1962. No wonder Russia is declaring #HELSINKI2018 #TrumpPutinSummit as “fabulous”!”. To add another view, Finnish MEP Jussi Halla-aho commented on the summit saying that “it is silly to hold Summits in city centrals. It disrupts the traffic, makes it harder to guarantee security, there are problems around accommodation, anarchists are rioting and get to break shop windows and burn cars. Some ski resort in Lapland would have been an excellent place for a meeting”. It is hard to say how much of this tweet is sarcasm and how much is true criticism.

All in all, the Helsinki Summit was seen as a great opportunity and a success by most Finns, no matter how informal and secretive the agenda of the Putin-Trump private meeting was. I think it is safe to say that Finland is indeed more than just the land of the Santa Claus, Lapland and reindeers – and it knows how to put it on a billboard.

The Irish Border and Brexit

From Fennel Wellings – CEFEUS Undergraduate Research Assistant

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The Good Friday Agreement signed in April 1998 has achieved ‘twenty years of relative peace’ as well as ‘enhanced prosperity’. Brexit has the potential to fracture this agreement unless a robust solution is put into place that avoids any disruption to the peace process. Below are three options that have been suggested in order to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic:

 

1. UK remains in the customs union

This would mean that the UK would have to accept the flow of goods, services and regulations set by the EU whist leaving it without a seat at the negotiating table. This would arguably be leaving the UK in a worse position than it is being a EU member state, as it would require the UK to accept rules and regulations that it had no part in negotiating. This is something that would be hard for the government to float politically and would be immediately shunned by Brexiteers, as it would put restrictions on UK trade.

 

2. The soft ‘invisible border’

This would oversee the creation of a soft border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. This model is something that Brexiteers believe is achievable but in reality appears fairly unworkable, and is something that the EU has already referred to as ‘magical thinking’. Even if this option were technologically viable to implement there would still need to be cameras at the border, which has caused the police to worry that ‘that kind of infrastructure would be attacked’. In May this year Karen Bradley the Northern Ireland Secretary ‘reiterated the government’s pledge to have no new cameras at the Irish border after Brexit’ stating that any new infrastructure would represent a security risk.

3. A united Ireland, a border in the Irish Sea

This would effectively separate Northern Ireland from the UK, placing their economy under EU rule. This is something that the DUP are set against, so it is unlikely that it is something that Theresa May is likely to pursue herself as she lacks ‘the votes in parliament to go against that party’s wishes’. This proposal has been set out in a draft agreement by the Commission and referred to as their ‘backstop’ plan that will become effective unless a better agreement is established. This does avoid a hard border effectively as well as providing protections against British goods sneaking over the border, but Theresa May has stated that she will not reside over the break up of the UK.

 

These three options that have been suggested in order to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic each present their own difficulties and barriers to being politically and logistically viable. It is also worth noting that the Good Friday agreement requires ‘the secretary of state to trigger a border poll if it appears likely that a majority in Northern Ireland would vote to join the Republic of Ireland’, in December 2017 polls found that in the event of being faced with a hard Brexit 48% would vote for a united Ireland and remain inside the EU, with 45% stating that they would prefer to remain as part of the UK and leave the EU. In the event of this becoming a reality the confidence and supply agreement between the Conservative Party and the DUP would have crumbled, leading to their parliamentary collapse.

 

The Chequers deal looks to have made some key policy shifts that would move the UK towards a Norway style arrangement, a deal that would cover ‘at least part of the EU single market’. The proposed model of a “free trade area for goods” that sees the continuation of ‘existing regulatory and customs arrangement for manufacturing and agricultural products’, is not inclusive of services, something that does set alarm bells ringing when considering services cover 80% of the UK’s economy. This stance has already been viewed by some negotiators in the EU as unworkable due to the difficulty the UK will have in detaching services from goods. In spite of this the UK still views this stance as the solution to the Irish border problem and is included in the white paper, the most recent development from the government concerning the UK’s exit from the EU.

The paper sets out the need for a ‘principled Brexit’, stating that the UK is committed to ‘protecting the peace process and avoiding a hard border, safeguarding the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK’. In order to maintain a frictionless border the white paper sets out details for a free trade area for goods in order to protect the peace process as well as avoiding any harm being caused to the internal market of the UK. The UK’s proposal of a free trade area for goods states that jobs and livelihoods and will also ensure that there is ‘no requirement in any scenario for new permits for transport services between Northern Ireland and Ireland’.

John McGrane the director general for the British Irish Chamber of Commerce has echoed the EU’s concern with plan for the border that was initially set out at Chequers, stating that a goods only Brexit deal would be unworkable and would be ‘resisted by business leaders’. McGrane held that the separating of goods and services would be impractical as ‘goods do not exist in isolation’, as well as stating that ‘a goods only deal would not remove the need for an Irish border’ as this does not solve the freedom of movement of people across the border that impacts ‘EU citizen employees, tourism and communities’. This is also something that the EU will not look upon favourably as it is inclusive of an element of ‘cherry picking’ from the four freedoms, something that the EU will want to safeguard whatever the outcome.

It therefore looks as though the question of the Irish border may rumble on for some more time, and if the proposed plans in the white paper are unworkable then the most likely outcome will be the ‘backstop’, the fall back plan proposed by the EU. The questions of the Irish border has most definitely presented itself as a barrier to the Conservative party seeking a hard Brexit and going forward will require the cabinet to address the matter devoid of ‘creative ambiguity’ and ‘magical thinking’. If the Conservative party are unable to achieve this they run the risk of presiding over the disintegration of not only their own party, but also the disintegration of the UK, whilst throwing the peace process into disarray as a possible consequence.

References

BBC. (2018). Bradley repeats ‘no new cameras’ on Irish border pledge. Available https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-44133527. Last accessed 12th July 2018.

Barker, A. (2018). The Soft Brexit Chequers Deal: What it Means. Available: https://www.ft.com/content/aeb53c82-82ac-11e8-96dd-fa565ec55929. Last accessed 11th July 2018.

Green, D A. (2018). The Politics of Brexit Has caught up with Harsh Reality. Available: https://www.ft.com/content/6cd2421c-838b-11e8-a29d-73e3d454535d. Last accessed 11th July 2018.

Henley, J. (2018). Brexit: What is the UK’s Backstop Proposal? Available: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jun/07/brexit-what-is-the-uks-backstop-proposal. Last Accessed 11th July 2018.

HM Government. (2018). The Future Relationship Between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Available: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/724982/The_future_relationship_between_the_United_Kingdom_and_the_European_Union_WEB_VERSION.pdf. Last Accessed 13th July 2018.

Leary, P. (2018). There are Three Ways out of the Irish Border Impasse. All are Closed to Theresa May. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/01/irish-border-hard-theresa-may-brussels. Last accessed 12th July 2018.

O’Carroll, L. (2018). Soft Brexit Proposal Welcomed on Both Sides of Irish Border. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/07/soft-brexit-proposal-welcomed-both-sides-irish-border. Last Accessed 11th July 2018.

Rankin, J. (2017). UK accused of ‘Magical Thinking’ over Brexit plan for Irish Border. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/aug/25/uk-accused-of-magical-thinking-over-brexit-plan-for-irish-border. Last Accessed 13th July 2018.

What makes you middle class?

From Katarina Hill – Intern in Politics and International Relations 

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What does it actually mean to be middle class?

Since moving to the UK from Denmark I am certainly aware that I am middle class – but why? I never thought about social classes much in the 19 years I lived in the supposedly happiest country on earth (do not believe it, it is an elaborate ruse). Being English and Danish (and some other heritages but let us not get into that) I grew up with two cultural influences, however the delightfully British concept of social class never snuck into the various cultural traits I adopted from my dual nationality. Three years of living in Britain and I am suddenly painfully aware of social classes and just how middle class I apparently am. The reality of my evidently middle class habits, and how they are not feasible on an undergraduate student income – even with a decent monthly educational grant (thank you, Denmark) – hit me during my first year of university. Shopping at Waitrose on a regular basis (they may overcharge for milk, but their veg is nicer) was no longer an option, and Nescafé Gold was now a luxury rather than a cheaper-but-still-nice alternative for my morning coffee. I am good at budgeting and bargain hunting so it was not a big adjustment, and hardly something that really bothered me. Yet, some of my friends did tease me with the odd comment about just how middle class I was. My boyfriend is also quick to point out and lovingly poke fun at my middle class traits; whether it is my taste in food, the way I dress and speak, or the fact that I tell him he cannot wear an un-ironed shirt to dinner with my family. But what does it actually mean to be middle class? Does it really come down to things such as our clothes, vocabulary, and general demeanour? The dictionary definition does not help clarify things. One quick Google search of “middle class” and the first thing that appears is “the social group between the upper and working classes, including professional and business people and their families”. That honestly does not offer much of an explanation… So upon seeing a quiz from the Telegraph entitled “11 signs you’re a middle class summer cliché” which I could not access without a premium subscription (oh, the irony), I decided to put my middle-classness to the test. Literally.

I searched the internet for some class quizzes and found a large variety from websites such as Buzzfeed, the Independent, and the Telegraph. Some of the questions were almost identical for a lot of the quizzes, such as whether you say ‘pardon’ or ‘what’ if you did not hear someone, or if you call it a ‘front room’, ‘parlour’, ‘sitting room’, etc. While some tests were based on vocabulary, others such as the Buzzfeed quiz, focused on slightly different traits. For one question, I was asked to “pick a Jennifer Lawrence”, and was presented with various pictures of the lovely actress with short descriptions of the moods she apparently displayed in each shot. I picked “just getting on with life Jennifer Lawrence” along with the Daily Mail as the paper that makes me angriest. The results of my answers to the various quizzes included “Not middle class at all”, “Just plain old sort-of middle class”, “Elite, if you eat more canapés”, and “You’re the bloody queen aren’t you?”. So that internet venture did not aid my quest to find what truly makes you middle class one bit.

I assume that most of us can agree on a few things that determine whether you are middle class. Financial capital for example; your job and income is probably one of the most defining factors of your social class. But what happens when you throw social capital into the mix? Who you know, what you know, and where you learned what you know seems to be even more defining than just your job and salary. The area you went to school in, and even more importantly which school you attended can quickly send you from lower to middle, or middle to upper class. Except these characteristics can then become contradictory. You do not have to come from a certain area or level of income to attend inherently middle and upper class institutions such as Oxford or Cambridge University. It certainly helps if you do, but it is not a prerequisite (they need to meet their quotas, and Eton simply does not represent all demographics). Coming back to the dictionary definition of ‘middle class’ stating that it includes “professional and business people and their families”. ‘Professional’ does not say much in terms of social class. Generally, if you are paid to carry out something you are a professional at that specific thing – it is your profession, you are a professional. But I doubt very many people would look at a professional builder and think he is middle class. So ‘professional’ is honestly a bit of a grey area. Further, to include the families of these professional and business people, is somewhat of an assumption as well. Just because your parents are middle class does not necessarily mean that you are. It may often be the case that people are, but I also know plenty of people who come from rather well off and very middle class families, yet they see themselves as working class  – or vice versa. As the picture so eloquently illustrates, if you are middle class you are somewhere in the middle between rich and poor. Except these days middle class seems to mean upper class, and upper class means you own a lot of horses and go fox hunting. ‘Upper class’ is almost a filthy term now, which is why I think some people say middle class when really we mean upper  – they do not want to admit that they are wealthy.

So really all I can seem to make sense of is that the middle class is in the middle. What your definition of that middle is may completely differ from mine. I do agree that although I do not have a substantial annual income, and I sometimes live in my overdraft for months at a time, I am middle class. I also have some preferences and habits that when I compare them to others, sometimes seem hilariously posh (my pinky occasionally pops up when I have a pint – who does that??). It does seem, however, that in the current financial and social climate in the UK it may be along while before we truly discover exactly what makes one middle class.