‘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)

27 June 2017

On the Record | Brexit is Britain’s Independence Day

Please see my latest post for The Quarterly Review, ‘Brexit is Britain’s Independence Day’:

Independence Day. That was Boris Johnson’s description of June 23rd last year, as he and fellow Leave campaigners canvassed the United Kingdom for Brexit, making the case to exit the European Union and strike out into the world once more as a sovereign nation. What a year it has been, with much to come before the official break in March 2019. ‘Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end,’ so Sir Winston Churchill described an early Allied victory in the darkest hours of World War II. ‘But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’

Many trace the origins of Brexit to Bruges in September 1988, when Margaret Thatcher declared that ‘We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.’

Yet with what hopes did the European project begin. The horrors of the war never far from its mind, and with the Soviet threat and the spectre of nuclear devastation before it, the Continent took a positive step toward removing barriers to trade and opening up new markets for competition, innovation, and productivity. Thus was born the European Economic Community (‘Common Market’) in 1958. Alas! conceived in the bureaucratic mind-set, the EEC soon trod the familiar statist path, culminating in 1993 when it became known as the European Community, signalling that politics was added to its economic remit. Political integration now became the central thrust, but a proposed constitution stumbled when plebiscites in several member countries failed, and sleight-of-hand was resorted to with the Lisbon Treaty of 2009, a constitution in all but name.

UK Eurosceptics took their lead from Mrs Thatcher, and while the Westminster establishment encouraged an inexorable move toward continental union, opponents mounted a rear-guard action. To quell unrest, prime minister David Cameron offered Tory MPs in the Coalition Government a referendum on Europe in exchange for their support. When a majority of Britons voted for separation, Mr Cameron resigned the premiership and was replaced by Theresa May. Although hitherto a tacit supporter of staying in the EU, she assured the country and her party that ‘Brexit means Brexit.’

And, as I conclude:

Much hard work and uncertainty remain, but the Brexit anniversary is still an occasion to celebrate. As a young, failed electoral candidate, Benjamin Disraeli remained resolute. ‘I am not at all disheartened,’ he vowed. ‘I do not in any way feel like a defeated man. Perhaps it is because I am used to it. I will say of myself like the famous Italian general, who, being asked in his old age why he was always victorious, replied, it was because he had always been beaten in his youth.’ From Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech on, Brexiteers have been fighting and have been frustrated for thirty years: they are now battle-tested, and they know that British independence is in sight.

Read more . . .


My thanks to editor Dr Leslie Jones of The Quarterly Review.

21 June 2017

On the Record | Elizabeth makes it official: The Queen backs Brexit and independence

Please see my latest wire as Brexit diarist for The New York Sun, ‘Elizabeth makes it official: The Queen backs Brexit and era of independence’:

“My government’s priority is to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union.” With these words Queen Elizabeth today officially opened the 57th Parliament. With the first session scheduled to last two years, it should give the Conservative government sufficient time to concentrate on exiting the European Union by March 2019. So the British ship of state has cleared its decks for Brexit.

As if to emphasize the seriousness of the moment, the State Opening lacked the pomp and circumstance of past years, with the Imperial Crown simply carried in procession and Her Majesty, foregoing the state coach to arrive by limousine and wearing not her ceremonial regalia but a bright blue dress and matching hat. The speech itself was a model of brevity, listing in curt succession the future agenda of the Government.

Many of the economic consequences of Brexit were foreshadowed by the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, to the Mansion House yesterday. Clearly stung by the results of a snap election meant to strengthen Prime Minister May’s hand, not weaken it, Mr. Hammond admitted that Tories “must make anew the case for a market economy and for sound money” and how “stronger growth must be delivered through rising productivity” as “the only sustainable way to deliver better public services, higher real wages and increased living standards.”

The Chancellor then delivered the strongest case for Britain’s independence — away from the European Union and toward global opportunities: “That means more trade, not less; maintaining our strong trade links with European markets after we leave the EU, as well as seeking out new opportunities for trade and investment with old friends and fast growing emerging economies alike.”

Read more . . .


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

19 June 2017

On the Record | Independence gets lift from Britain’s monarchy as Brexit talks begin

Please see my latest wire as Brexit diarist for The New York Sun, ‘Independence gets lift from Britain’s monarchy as Brexit talks begin’:

“The world is your oyster.” So opined Britain’s former trade envoy, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. Asked about UK firms’ attitude toward Brexit, the Duke spoke of their guarded optimism. “You can either look at it as a glass half-empty — which is: ‘Oh my God, why have we done this?’ Or you could look at it as a glass half-full, which is: ‘Okay, that’s where we are. There are opportunities that we’ve got to make.’ So . . . you may lose one thing but you may gain something else.”

Fleet Street is not remiss in reporting this as the first major intervention on the EU exit by a senior member of the Royal Family. But as The New York Sun editorialized March last year as “Elizabeth’s Finest Hour,” the Queen herself “backs Britain leaving the European Union.” This story was confirmed in December, when a BBC reporter revealed that Her Majesty had at a luncheon retorted, “I don’t see why we can’t just get out. What’s the problem?”

Her Majesty will start to get answers today, as her Minister of the Department for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, meets with his continental counterpart, Michel Barnier. Meetings will continue throughout the summer and autumn, with parties drawing up exit plans in Whitehall and Brussels each month, and conferring together once a week about progressing UK-EU negotiations.

EU bureaucrats may have thought that, with Britain’s ruling Conservatives weakened after a failed electoral gambit and reduced to a hung Parliament, the oyster was theirs for the eating. But, true to form, they have misread the British people’s determination for freedom.

Read more . . .


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

17 June 2017

On the Record | With the Tories in disarray editor George Osborne starts feeling his oats

Please see my latest wire — and first as Brexit diarist — for The New York Sun, ‘ With the Tories in disarray editor George Osborne starts feeling his oats’:

The editor of London’s Evening Standard is feeling his oats. George Osborne was Chancellor of the Exchequer until last June’s Brexit referendum, when prime minister David Cameron left office after his support for the “Remain” campaign. When Theresa May acceded to the leadership, Mr. Osborne felt the bristles of the new broom.

Mr. Osborne landed the Standard editorship last month, and promptly started using his new perch to cast aspersions upon the Conservative Government of which he had once been a central figure. Last week, in the wake of Mrs. May’s humiliation at the polls, Mr. Osborne called her a “dead woman walking.” His latest is an editorial arguing that “this is no time to ditch fiscal responsibility.”

You don’t say. When Mr. Cameron came to power at the head of a coalition government in 2010, his Treasury officials found a letter left them by the outgoing Labor chief secretary, Liam Byrne: “I’m afraid there is no money.” Seven years on — two with a majority Conservative government — there still isn’t any money.

Fiscal hawks will lament that the British deficit and debt are, respectively, a staggering £50 billion and £1,700 billion. Even with the wind at its back, the Tory government failed to do little more than slow the growth of government and hope that better economic conditions — investment, entrepreneurship, and growth — would swell Treasury coffers. The deficit declines accordingly, but the debt continues its upward climb.

Read more . . .


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

12 June 2017

On the Record | Britain Ripe for Collective Government by ‘Ministry of All the Talents’

Please see my latest wire for The New York Sun, ‘ Britain Appears to Be Ripe for Collective Government by “Ministry of All the Talents” ’:

Though Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn is one of the few major figures in British politics publically calling for Theresa May to stand down from her premiership, the sentiment is rampant in Conservative constituencies and Establishment enclaves across Great Britain. The Prime Minister’s electoral gamble of trying to backfoot Mr. Corbyn’s troubled tenure, and increase her parliamentary majority, failed spectacularly.

To remain in power as leader of a minority party, Mrs. May must seek an agreement of “confidence and supply” — supply meaning spending — with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who was cashiered in July and edits the Evening Standard, calls Mrs. May a “dead woman walking.”

For all intents and purposes, the Prime Minister leads a caretaker government, awaiting a new head and new direction. Already rumors swirl that the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, once her opponent for leadership, has been approached by five ministerial colleagues to stand against Mrs. May. While there may be little love in the country for the beleaguered Tory chief who shared scant authority with her colleagues, there is less appetite among Conservatives for the wounds that would be inflicted by a contest for the top job.

Particularly not with Brexit negotiations scheduled to begin in less than a fortnight (European Union officials will be merciless in exploiting Britain’s divisions to win concessions that undermine the determination of last June’s referendum). Mr. Corbyn’s rejuvenated Labor MPs will be salivating for any opportunity to assume government.

But there is an alternative to the choice of glumly following the maladroit Mrs. May or risking all on the vagaries of a leadership race. Simply turn the Prime Minister from a political liability into a benign figurehead for cabinet rule.

Read more . . .


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

08 June 2017

On the Record | Tories’ Muddled Approach to British Independence Costs UK Its Compass

Please see my latest wire for The New York Sun, ‘Tories’ Muddled Approach to British Independence Costs UK Its Compass’:

Not for the first time, Britons go to the polls with the European Union the unseen ballot question.

In 2013 David Cameron promised fractious Conservative members of parliament, chaffing under a coalition government, that a referendum on remaining within the European Union would be put before the people. Then it was the Brexit vote itself, with a majority of Britons voting for independence.

Now, with a general election tomorrow, the question revolves around who will steer negotiations: Theresa May’s Tories or Jeremy Corbyn’s Labor party?

For the Brexit purist, neither choice is satisfying. Mrs. May hadn’t campaigned for Brexit last year and, while she has said that “Brexit means Brexit,” the government’s opening gambit has been to accept minor concessions that belie the determination of Britain’s bid for sovereignty, whether, say, paying to participate in the single market and customs union or converting existing EU law to UK law.

As for Labor, while it has mouthed platitudes about respecting the Brexit referendum, its composition of loose variables — from those die-hard statist Europhiles to those who want a second referendum vote — leave much to be desired, as demonstrated by its approach to the EU: placate Europe for access to its markets, enshrine workers’ rights into law without corresponding care for the rights of entrepreneurial capital, and outright rejection of the Tory position that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

Read more . . .


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