‘Nations stumble upon establishments, which are indeed the result of human action,
but not the execution of any human design.’
Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767)

18 July 2018

On the Record | Johnson says Brexit can be done

Please see my latest wire as Brexit diarist for The New York Sun, ‘Johnson says Brexit can be done’:

Today marks a Brexit milestone. Alongside the June 2016 referendum and the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech of January 2017 will stand Boris Johnson’s personal statement to the House of Commons. It has one theme: “It is not too late to save Brexit.”

Doubtless this is the opening salvo of more challenges to come, for which Mr. Johnson now leads the pack. In other words, while it may not be too late to save Brexit, it may be too late to save Theresa May’s leadership of the Conservative Party.

Mr. Johnson’s resignation last week as foreign secretary came three days after Mrs. May’s Cabinet summit Friday at the premier’s official country seat, Chequers. She capitulated to the European Union and betrayed the promise of Brexit.

The subsequent white paper outlining the government’s formal position only added insult to injury as the full extent of her opening round of appeasement became known. “In important ways this is BINO or Brino or Brexit in name only,” Mr. Johnson told the House, adding that he was “of course unable to support it.”

Mr. Johnson’s verbal shot mightn’t be heard round the world, but it was a shot across the Prime Minister’s bow with advice that she “can fix that vision once again before us” and “deliver a great Brexit for Britain” to “unite this party, unite this House, and unite the country.”

Time, though, grows short. The initial referendum euphoria of Britain realizing its own Independence Day was soon obscured by “a fog of self-doubt.” Instead of riding high on the flooding tide of fortune, Mr. Johnson bemoaned, Britain “dithered” and “burned through negotiating capital.”

Now, Mr. Johnson said, “after 18 months of stealthy retreat,” Britain had come “from the bright certainties” of Lancaster House, where Mrs. May outlined her goals and negotiating strategy, to the Chequers agreement, where she upended them.

Read more . . .

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My thanks to editor Seth Lipsky of The New York Sun.

12 July 2018

On the Record | Trump may meet BoJo in Brexit row

Please see my latest wire as Brexit diarist for The New York Sun, ‘Trump may meet BoJo in Brexit row’:

Could Boris Johnson emerge from the debacle of Chequers to become prime minister of Britain? That is the question following Theresa May’s capitulation, where she committed the government to a soft-Brexit that seems foredoomed to satisfy neither the Remainers or those who want to hold out for the expressed will of Britons for full independence.

Mrs. May’s Brexit secretary, David Davis, was first to resign late Sunday. In his resignation letter, Mr. Davis wrote that he feared “the current trend of policy and tactics is making” leaving the EU customs and regulatory framework “look less and less likely” and that the upshot of Chequers “will be to make the supposed control by Parliament illusory rather than real.”

The foreign secretary made his move the following morning. In his letter taking leave of office, Mr. Johnson feared that the Brexit “dream is dying, suffocated by needless self-doubt.” The government’s position on Brexit, he said, means that Britain is “truly headed for the status of colony,” even before Brussels has made its counter-proposal.

With the Chequers agreement in hand, Mr. Johnson said “the Government now has a song to sing” but, having “practiced the words over the weekend,” he admitted that “they stick in the throat.”

Read more . . .

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My thanks to editor Seth Lipsky of The New York Sun.

09 July 2018

On the Record | Time’s Come for New PM for Britain

Please see my latest wire as Brexit diarist for The New York Sun, ‘Time’s Come for New PM for Britain’:

Conservatives backing Brexit will find no peace until Theresa May is removed from office. That is the conclusion of this correspondent following Friday’s meeting of the prime minister and cabinet to finalize the government’s proposals for a new working relationship with the European Union.

Mrs. May has failed the British voters, who in June 2016 decided to leave the EU. They voted for a strategy of global bilateral trade deals, with Britain freed from the strait-jacket of tariffs and regulations imposed by the Brussels bureaucracy. Mrs. May nonetheless reached at Chequers an agreement within the government envisaging an EU common policy with respect to goods and agri-foods, ostensibly to ease trade with the Continent.

Yet such a policy is crosswise with the Brexit vote. For it would make future international trade deals extremely difficult, as Britain would enter talks about the composition of said deals compromised by its EU regulatory commitments. Adding insult to injury, Britain would no longer have a say in the formation of EU trade policy, being no longer a member.

Mrs. May has failed her Cabinet colleagues, by presenting them with a done deal and threatening those who would refuse to comply. She is “first among equals” in theory, but has treated her ministers as lackeys, with the framework of the Chequers agreement drawn up in advance of Friday’s conference.

Over a 12-hour period they were pressured into a “soft” Brexit compromise, meant to ease negotiations with Europe, allay fears of British businesses already competing on the Continent, and resolve the border issue with Ireland. Yet critics argue that Brexit is betrayed by surrendering the promise of independence back to Europe. Ministers were warned that resignations would be punished by immediate loss of limousine privileges, with taxi-fares made available for rides home.

The Bible teaches that it profits not a man to lose his soul for the whole world; now Brexit ministers sell out on principle on the mere promise of government transport.

Finally, the Prime Minister has failed her parliamentary party. And not for the first time. Last year she went to the polls in the belief that a weak Labor opposition would result in increased Tory seats to strengthen her Brexit hand. She miscalculated badly and was rewarded with a minority government. Recent polls now indicate that if the Brexit promise is broken, 45% of Conservative voters will abandon the party at the next election.

So what next? The Chequers agreement and the imminent white paper that expands on detail for legislation to come is almost certainly dead on arrival. Eurosceptic Tory MPs will vote against it, while little support can be hoped from opposing parliamentary parties, as politicians who want closer ties with Europe will frustrate the Government as much as possible.

Nor can it be expected that the Chequers agreement will be acceptable to Brussels, which will exploit Mrs. May’s opening round of EU concessions as precursors for more to come. This will be the opportunity for cowed Brexiteers who swallowed their pride at Chequers to save face, say “Enough is enough!,” and break ranks with No. 10.

Read more . . .

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My thanks to editor Seth Lipsky of The New York Sun.

05 July 2018

On the Record | President Trump’s Brexit Opening

Please see my latest wire for The American Spectator, ‘President Trump’s Brexit Opening’:

London in July, and more than an unusual summer heat wave awaits Britain’s prime minister Theresa May. The Brexit timetable is “hotting up” as ministers prepare to finalize the Government’s list of demands for Brussels, while restive Conservative MPs jostle for position to defenestrate their leader once the European Union deal is done. As tensions heighten, can President Trump offer respite to his beleaguered British counterpart?

The Cabinet meets this Friday at the premier’s country retreat at Chequers, where they will thrash out the Government’s white paper setting out the objectives for its future social, economic, and security relationship with Europe. Too little, too late, is the general consensus, as the formal Brexit separation takes place next March: while various measures and proposals have been drawn up and discussed desultorily, none have benefited from rigorous analysis, and now Brexiteers are fearful that the Cabinet will be presented with a fait accompli, take-it-or-leave-it Damoclean sword dangling over their heads.

Rumors circulate, for instance, that Mrs. May will propose abiding by European single market rules for goods, leaving the corollary of free movement of labor for the UK-EU negotiating table — ostensibly on the grounds that, as the United Kingdom currently abides by these regulations, this trade component can be quickly agreed by the two parties. Yet her critics argue that this concession empowers the EU to continue dictating terms, frustrating British attempts to innovate and compete for international trade agreements. Brussels mandarins, who habitually voice their disdain for Britain’s “independence” initiative, have no incentive to coöperate and encourage discontent on the Continent. They regularly back-foot Mrs. May and her Brexit ministers.

“Nothing durable can be accomplished without the impulse of general concurrence,” wrote Germaine de Staël, during those unfortunate “eras in history when the course of national feeling is dependent on a single man.” Woe to Britain that its fate rests with Theresa May, unloved by Conservatives, and overwhelmed and underwhelming on the Brexit file.

Read more . . .

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My thanks to editor Wlady Pleszczynski of The American Spectator.

23 June 2018

On the Record | Imagine Trump Doing Brexit, Johnson Says

Please see my latest wire as Brexit diarist for The New York Sun, ‘Imagine Trump Doing Brexit, Johnson Says’:

Don’t expect fireworks over London tonight on the second anniversary of the Brexit vote. Murmurs of satisfaction in Brussels are more likely, as European Union mandarins congratulate themselves on casting a spanner into Britain’s efforts to save itself from the continent’s super state.

Brexiteers sold independence at least partly on the basis that EU trade restrictions penalized British producers and consumers, imposing high tariffs within the bloc and keeping members from enjoying more favorable trade relationships with non-member countries. Freed from the EU’s regulatory and protectionist barriers, Britain could once more compete on the global stage and negotiate agreements with Europe that were mutually agreeable.

All trade is based on this win-win scenario, but Brussels will have none of it. Officials far prefer to keep impediments in place that are equally damaging to its member states and to Britain and, perhaps far more important given the rise of protest parties, signal that opposition to EU diktat will not be tolerated.

Read more . . .

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My thanks to editor Seth Lipsky of The New York Sun.