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Can a no deal Brexit be a good thing?

by Frank Schnittger Sun Sep 2nd, 2018 at 09:29:27 PM EST

Both sides in the Brexit negotiations have been hyping the risk of a no deal Brexit and becoming more explicit in discussing the economic damage it will do. This is to be expected  in the run up to the end of the negotiations, if only to soften up opponents of a deal.

"There is no alternative", Mrs. May can be expected to say if and when negotiators finally come to a deal: The economic consequences of no deal are too awful to contemplate, a point made clear by the publication of the first of 84 studies on the economic impact of a no deal Brexit.

All of this may very well be true, particularly in the short term. But are there longer term benefits to a no deal Brexit than can overcome any short term disadvantages? This is certainly the theory which arch-Brexiteers cling to when opposing the compromises any deal would entail.

They too can be suspected of tactical maneuvering, both to stiffen the resolve of British negotiators to hold out for a better deal, and to absolve themselves of any responsibility when any final, messy, compromise deal is done.

But let us take their objections at face value, for the moment, and examine their claim that a sovereign UK, free of any entanglement with the EU, could be much more successful, economically and politically, on the world stage.

Read more... (30 comments, 1621 words in story)

The aftermath of Pope Francis' visit to Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Mon Aug 27th, 2018 at 11:29:30 AM EST

Much lower than expected crowds show up for Pope Francis' Mass

Pope Francis' visit to Ireland, just concluded, was very different to that of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in 1979, but it is very difficult to gauge it's significance in the immediate aftermath. The visit was dominated by the clerical child sexual abuse and cover-up scandals, and other scandals concerning Church run mother-and-baby homes, forced adoptions, and forced labour in Magdalen laundries. Pope Francis referred to these scandals in all four of his speeches and begged forgiveness for the Church's part in them.

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May's Summer Summit Diplomacy

by Frank Schnittger Thu Aug 23rd, 2018 at 11:09:27 AM EST

Oui has an excellent diary up on the lack of progress made by May's summer diplomatic offensive trying to reset the Brexit negotiations and make her already "dead in the water" Chequers strategy the basis for future discussions. May managed to achieve an opening negotiating position 18 months too late, only to have it thrashed by her own side before she could even bring it to Europe.

In terms of a coherent negotiating strategy, May also got her timing all wrong. Having given Barnier his negotiating brief, European leaders were hardly going to undermine the Brussels negotiating process by overruling current EU negotiating positions.

Getting an agreed negotiating position among 27 nations and other significant actors is actually a considerable (if unsung) achievement: Why would EU leaders want to unravel all of that and throw their side of the negotiation into utter confusion, possibly precipitating Barnier's resignation, and playing into classic UK divide and conquer tactics?

Read more... (22 comments, 1217 words in story)

Pope Francis' visit to Ireland

by Frank Schnittger Fri Aug 17th, 2018 at 03:50:40 PM EST

Pope Francis is visiting Ireland on 25th. August for the World Meeting of families in what is the first Papal visit to Ireland since Pope John Paul II made a triumphal visit drawing massive crowds in 1979. The event will be a fitting barometer of how much Ireland has changed in the meantime.

Much smaller crowds are expected this time around, and his visit has become mired in controversy. First the World Meeting of Families removed all mention of "non traditional families" from all promotional material, and then there were doubts expressed whether he would have time to meet with survivors of clerical abuse in the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Even now it seems most unlikely he will meet with some of the more outspoken critics of the Catholic church such as Clerical abuse survivor Colm O'Gorman, or former President Mary McAleese - who was recent banned from speaking at a conference in the Vatican - which prompted the conference organizers to move the conference to just outside the Vatican.

The timing is also unfortunate, coming so soon after the successful referendum campaigns to legalize same sex marriage and to permit abortion in Ireland.

To cap it all, a grand Jury in Pennsylvania has just issued a report which accused hundreds of priests of abusing thousands of children in just 6 dioceses within Pennsylvania and Cardinal O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston and Chair of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Children,has just cancelled his attendance with the Pope in order to deal with a new crisis of seminarian abuse at one of his seminaries.

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No deal means no deal

by Frank Schnittger Fri Aug 3rd, 2018 at 03:32:58 PM EST

Minister for Justice Charles Flanagan and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hold their press conference on the street after the British failed to provide a room following a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in London last month. Photograph: Kirsty O'Connor/PA

One of the few things the UK government has done well is to summarise their position in a few pithy phrases even low information voters can understand. We are all familiar with the famous "Brexit means Brexit" catchphrase of Prime Minster May and Boris Johnson's famous "we can have our cake at eat it" which should really be "we can eat our cake and still have it"...

What Johnson means by this is that the UK will be able to carry on trading with the EU very much as before, taking all the benefits of access to the EU Single Market and all the Free Trade Agreements (FTA) the EU has negotiated with third parties without any of the costs and restrictions of EU membership. Apparently the EU would agree to this because "they need us more than we need them" and replicating EU FTAs would be a simple mater of replacing the letters "EU" with "UK" in all the FTAs the EU has negotiated to date.

The EU negotiating stance, on the other hand, has been one long slow process of disabusing the UK of such notions. Access to the Single Market will require agreement to "the four freedoms", and membership of the Customs Union will require compliance with the corpus of customs regulations the EU has built up over the years. The UK will not be allowed to achieve a competitive advantage by taking in cheaper, less regulated imports, or by reducing the scope of workers rights. And this is before we even talk about the UK making Norway style ongoing contributions to the EU budget in return for access to the Single Market.

Read more... (53 comments, 1632 words in story)

Brexit: How not to negotiate a deal [UPDATE]

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jul 27th, 2018 at 07:34:57 PM EST

Update [2018-8-2 11:7:24 by Frank Schnittger]: I've added a chapter on Last Minute Brinkmanship to make my description of the process more complete.


Having studied sociology, politics, organisational development and conflict resolution, and having worked in community development and industrial relations I have always had an abiding interest in the negotiation process. I was once accepted to do a research Phd on the negotiating process but didn't proceed because I couldn't find a suitably experienced or qualified supervisor.

What also shocked me was the paucity of research or literature which shed much light on the process or which might have been of much practical guidance for practitioners of the art. In my experience most good negotiators were either self taught or had a natural gift for the process. "Management" courses in negotiating skills were beginning to emerge, but academia didn't seem to have caught on at all.

This lack of research was all the more shocking as the negotiating process is central to all advanced economies and working democracies. It is the chief alternative to authoritarian diktats and military action aimed at vanquishing your opponents. You can oppress, suppress, or kill you adversaries. Or you can negotiate...

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The UK to remain within a reformed EU?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 25th, 2018 at 08:33:44 PM EST

Olly Robbins smirks at Brexit Secretary in name only, Dominic Raab

Theresa May has successfully withstood threats to her leadership probably at least until Parliament returns in the Autumn and has consolidated her Brexit negotiation team under her direct leadership and that of Olly Robbins, her chief negotiator. Dominic Raab has been sidelined as her largely titular Deputy and put in charge of a Brexit department mainly concerned with preparations for Brexit itself rather than the negotiations with the EU.

This merely formalises the previous situation whereby David Davis spent only four hours all year in actual negotiations with the EU team. Despite (or perhaps because of) this, Michel Barnier recently said that a Brexit deal had been 80% agreed. The main contentious item not yet agreed is how to avoid Brexit creating a "hard" customs border between the EU and UK along the 500km land frontier between Ireland and Northern Ireland which has over 200 crossing points.

Read more... (43 comments, 2026 words in story)

Above the Law. Jupiter, the Ministers and the Bodyguard

by Bernard Sun Jul 22nd, 2018 at 04:02:36 PM EST

Last week-end, French President Emmanuel Macron was on top of the world.

On Saturday, July 14, he and his wife Brigitte had attended the Bastille Day parade on the Champs-Élysées (this year, sans Donald Trump), given the customary press interviews and then flew to Moscow to attend the FIFA World Cup final game between France (Les Bleus) and Croatia. On late Sunday afternoon, Les Bleus had done it again: they won the World Cup for the second time in history, exactly 20 years after the first 1998 win by the Zidane generation.

Front paged by Frank Schnittger

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Brexit and inequality [Update]

by Frank Schnittger Sat Jul 21st, 2018 at 01:37:03 PM EST

[Update] To my shock and amazement, the Irish Times has published my letter in full:Brexit a gift for Ireland?

David McWilliams is something of an Irish euro-sceptic but has an interesting article in the Irish Times. Riffing off Boris Johnson's "F*ck business" comment he argues that the Brexiteer led Tories have become an anti-business party and that that represents an opportunity for Ireland. I have drafted a letter to the editor as follows:

David McWilliams writes that "Economically, the real story is how the UK went from [being] the herald of free enterprise to "F**k business" in one generation."  (Opinion, 21st July). The irony is that the UK's economy was "the sick man of Europe" when it joined the EU in 1973, and it has done very well out of EU membership by expanding it's services sector massively and taking advantage of the single market.

The problem is that the de-industrialisation pursued since Margaret Thatcher and the globalisation enabled by the EU has also increased regional and social inequality massively, and this, more than anything, is what drove Brexit. The Eton/Oxbridge elite have also twigged that their sense of entitlement doesn't cut much ice in Brussels and so they have jumped on the bandwagon "to take back control".

There will be blood when the great unwashed of Sunderland realise they have been duped and that there will be even greater inequality and poverty under an Eton/Oxbridge led UK free of Brussels constraints. The Eton /Oxbridge crowd were never much interested in getting their hands dirty and actually making things - for them industry is a dirty word. Vulture capitalism, rent seeking, and ripping off other people's hard earnings is their thing.

So yes, Brexit, and especially a hard Brexit is an enormous opportunity for Ireland as the sole remaining larger English speaking member with a similar legal system and cultural outlook. But we should be beware of this creating even greater regional and social inequality in Ireland. A few banks and vulture funds relocating a few staff and a lot of paper financial assets to Dublin may do wonders for our already bloated GDP figures, but little for the plain people of Ireland.

We should focus on attracting a lot of smaller/medium sized UK industrial companies who need access to EU markets to smaller and medium towns in Ireland. These smaller companies typically don't have "corporate strategy" departments or foreign language capabilities. Moving a few miles across the Irish sea to an English speaking common law jurisdiction would be the easiest option for them.  100 jobs in Leitrim would mean a lot more to the local economy than a few financial whizz kids moving to Dublin.

Leo Varadker should appoint a full time Brexit minister dedicated to travelling the roads of north and Midlands England meeting small business leaders who never see a British government Minister and whose Brexit concerns are being ignored. Tariff and non-tariff barriers may make their EU exports unviable and threaten the future of their businesses. If Boris won't help them, perhaps we can.

Read more... (16 comments, 1057 words in story)

Many battles won but the war continues...

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jul 18th, 2018 at 12:43:31 AM EST

The last fifty years in Ireland have been one long battle against the domination of many aspects of life by religious institutions, principally the Roman Catholic Church, whose "Special Position" in Irish life was formally recognised in the Irish Constitution until 1973.

Only this year has the ban on abortion inserted into our Constitution in 1983 been overturned. Before that, in 2015, the marriage equality referendum finally ended official discrimination against the LGBTQI community. Divorce only became legal in 1996 and contraception only became legal in very restricted circumstances in 1980 although access to contraceptives has been liberalised since.

The tide has turned and many religious now claim they are being oppressed by a new liberal secular orthodoxy. What they conveniently forget is the the Church still controls many Hospitals and nearly all schools in the Republic and demands that they implement "a Catholic Ethos". This can include a ban on medical procedures disapproved by the church and an insistence that only the baptised may attend Church run (but state funded) schools.

The latest outrage is an attempt by the Bishops to ensure that children who opt out of religious education should continue be made to sit at the back of their class and not be timetabled for other more useful subjects. Hence my letter to the Editor published by the Irish Times today:

Read more... (13 comments, 714 words in story)

Europe is not a market, it is the will to live together

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jul 17th, 2018 at 07:08:49 PM EST

Esteban Gonzales Pons: speech on Brexit, European Parliament - 2017

Europe is currently bound to the North by popularism, and to the South by refugees drowned in the sea. To the east by Putin's tanks, and to the West by Trump's wall. In the past by war, in the future by Brexit. Today, Europe is alone more than ever, but it's citizens do not know it.

Europe is, however, for that reason the best solution and we do not know how to explain that to our citizens. Globalisation teaches us that today Europe is inevitable, there is no alternative.

But Brexit also tells us that Europe is reversible, that you can walk backwards in history, even though outside of Europe, it is very cold.

Brexit is the most selfish decision ever made since Winston Churchill saved Europe  with the blood sweat and tears of the English.

Saying Brexit is the most insidious way of saying goodbye.

Europe is not a market, it is the will to live together. Leaving Europe is not leaving a market, it is leaving shared dreams. We can have a common market, but if we do not have common dreams, we have nothing. Europe is the peace that came after the disaster of war. Europe is the pardon between French and Germans. Europe is the return to freedom of Greece, Spain and Portugal. Europe is the fall of the Berlin Wall. Europe is the end of communism. Europe is the welfare state, it is democracy. Europe is fundamental rights.

As Fintan O'Toole has pointed out Theresa May's much heralded White paper is devoid of any understanding of what the EU is about, or any vision for what the UK should strive for outside the EU. It has satisfied neither Brexiteers nor Remainers and is most unlikely to be agreeable to the EU.

Read more... (36 comments, 1187 words in story)

Trump Meets Putin [Updated]

by Oui Mon Jul 16th, 2018 at 02:41:49 PM EST

Pundits have gone into a frenzy for days, weeks ...

Democrats called for the summit to be canceled ...

Putin should first send the 12 GRU hackers to stand trial in the US based on a Grand Jury decision ...

Putin stole the election to benefit Trump ...

More to follow as press conference is about to start ...

Front paged by Frank Schnittger with minor edit

Read more... (20 comments, 2873 words in story)

HTTPS Cert Added

by Colman Tue Jul 10th, 2018 at 04:36:02 PM EST

I've put an SSL cert in place to secure traffic to and from ET. Shout if it breaks anything.

Comments >> (19 comments)

The beginning of the end?

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jul 9th, 2018 at 08:24:34 PM EST

Davis, Fox, Johnson and Gove

David Davis and Boris Johnson have resigned from the UK government because they cannot support Theresa May's Brexit proposals which are unlikely to be acceptable to the EU in any case. Liam Fox and Michael Gove may soon follow although both are no doubt trying to position themselves for a leadership contest. He who wields the knife rarely inherits the crown... Meanwhile Theresa May is left to struggle on in what may well be a terminally weakened condition.

Read more... (109 comments, 1302 words in story)

Politics as a process of persuasion...

by Frank Schnittger Thu Jul 5th, 2018 at 10:17:30 AM EST

Is there method to May's madness? From a Bloomberg Brexit email...

Prime Minister Theresa May is gradually dragging her deeply divided Cabinet toward her vision of Brexit - and it's a softer version than the one she originally promised.

Her delaying has irked counterparts in the European Union, who say their patience with the U.K. and its political drama is running out. But by moving slowly, and offering token political gifts to the Brexit-backers along the way, she has clung on to her position - in the face of resignation threats and leadership plots - and shifted the terms of the Brexit debate.

First the Brexiters objected to paying a financial settlement for the divorce. May agreed to do so, peppering the announcement over a few months, and her critics accepted it. Then they objected to a transition period that would keep Britain bound to EU rules after Brexit day. May agreed to one, and they acquiesced.

Then she opened the door to indirect jurisdiction for the European Court of Justice - an institution loathed by euroskeptics as a symbol of lost sovereignty - and they kept quiet. Brexit Secretary David Davis threatened to resign over a plan for the Irish border, but stepped back from the brink after winning a concession from May that is unlikely to survive negotiations with Brussels. (Davis is the one making the most noise in the run-up to the crunch Cabinet meeting on Friday, too.)

Now May is proposing to keep the U.K. aligned with EU rules for trade in goods - an idea that's toxic for Brexit backers because it could reduce the scope for striking new commercial deals around the world, which was a key part of the Brexit campaign's narrative. Michael Gove, a possible leadership candidate, is predicting that no one will resign.

The danger isn't over for May. She could still be ousted. But if she comes out of the crunch Cabinet meeting on Friday with an agreement, it will be something of a victory for a prime minister persistently vilified for her lack of authority.

Read more... (39 comments, 1389 words in story)

Who gives a damn about Ireland?

by Frank Schnittger Wed Jun 20th, 2018 at 09:06:10 PM EST

Leave voters prefer hard border to staying in customs union - poll

Two out of three British voters who backed Brexit would prefer to see a hard border in Ireland than for Britain to remain in the EU customs union, according to a new poll.

Only one in three British voters said they could not accept a different status for Northern Ireland after Brexit and six out of 10 Leave voters said that leaving the EU was more important than keeping the United Kingdom together.

The poll by Conservative peer Michael Ashcroft found that, given a straight choice between a hard border and remaining in the customs union, 41 per cent of all voters would choose a hard border compared to 32 per cent who would remain in the customs union. Leave voters would choose a hard border by 66 per cent to 10 per cent and Conservative voters would make the same choice by 67 per cent to 14 per cent.

Read more... (45 comments, 2061 words in story)

Mogg the Moggie

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jun 15th, 2018 at 07:30:38 AM EST

moggie ˈmɒɡi/; noun British informal; noun: moggy
- a cat, typically one that does not have a pedigree or is otherwise unremarkable.

Brexit: `call Ireland's bluff' on Border, Rees-Mogg tells May

The European Union could ignore its own rules if it wants to avoid a hard border in Ireland after Brexit and simply agree not to create one in any circumstances, the leading backbench Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg has said.

Mr Rees-Mogg, who chairs the European Research Group of pro-Brexit Tory MPs, said Theresa May should call Ireland's bluff rather than allow the Border issue to hold Brexit to ransom.

"Will the Irish put up a border? Will a government that has always believed there should be a single government across the whole island of Ireland suddenly put up a wall? Is it going to be a Trump-like wall built by Mr Varadkar?

The British government has repeatedly said it will not impose a border, so it is entirely up to Mr Varadkar, " he told The Irish Times.

Read more... (23 comments, 1184 words in story)

Boris the Beast

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jun 11th, 2018 at 11:54:41 AM EST

It seems increasingly obvious that the May government is incapable of formulating a coherent negotiating position its negotiators can use to progress the Brexit talks much further. Hemmed in by the DUP and Brexiteers in her own party who have the numbers to mount a leadership challenge, and a Parliament which has a soft Brexit (if not an outright Remainer) majority, her strategy to date has been to procrastinate, prevaricate and delay.

The problem is she is rapidly running out of time. She can probably afford another non-event of an EU summit this month, but if at least the outlines of a Brexit deal aren't agreed by the time the October summit comes around, a hard, "no-deal" Brexit looms. Boris Johnson assumes that the Brexit talks will have to go into a melt-down and lauds Trump's much more confrontational approach.

"Imagine Trump doing Brexit. He'd go in bloody hard. There'd be all sorts of breakdowns, all sorts of chaos. Everyone would think he'd gone mad. But actually you might get somewhere. It's a very, very good thought."
That's probably as good as Boris' thinking gets.

Read more... (31 comments, 810 words in story)

A Perfect Storm

by Frank Schnittger Fri Jun 1st, 2018 at 06:54:50 PM EST

With 300 days to go to Brexit, the Brexit negotiations are facing a perfect storm of UK Government incompetence, Italian governmental policy changes on the Euro, and a trade war initiated by Donald Trump. The UK government has still not made up its mind as to what kind of relationship it wants with the Customs Union and Single Market, and seems no closer to coming up with a coherent solution to the problem of the Irish border.

While Boris Johnson continues to waffle on about wanting a clean break from the EU, the UK government is actually seeking ever more complicated solutions to retaining "friction free" access to the Single Market and wants to retain access to the Blue Skies agreement, the Gallileo project, Europol, the Prüm Convention, and to retain influence over European defence and foreign policy. Basically the UK is seeking a partnership of equals between the UK and EU, and the EU is having none of it.

Meanwhile the "Italian Crisis", which is seen by many in the EU as a more serious threat to the Euro and the EU than Brexit, is reminding EU negotiators of just how much they need to show the Italians (and everyone else) of how much they stand to lose if they leave the EU or the Eurozone. The Italy Panic Might Be Bad News for the U.K.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, stepped up rhetoric last weekend on the need for the U.K. to be worse off. It was sparked by last week's round of negotiations in Brussels in which European officials said they were taken aback by how much the British government wants to continue after Brexit as if Brexit never happened.

Read more... (157 comments, 686 words in story)

How to run a referendum

by Frank Schnittger Wed May 30th, 2018 at 08:50:15 AM EST

If only Brexit had been run like Ireland's referendum

In all the excitement of what happened in Ireland's referendum on abortion, we should not lose sight of what did not happen. A vote on an emotive subject was not subverted. The tactics that have been so successful for the right and the far right in the UK, the US, Hungary and elsewhere did not work. A democracy navigated its way through some very rough terrain and came home not just alive but more alive than it was before. In the world we inhabit, these things are worth celebrating but also worth learning from. Political circumstances are never quite the same twice, but some of what happened and did not happen in Ireland surely contains more general lessons.

If the right failed spectacularly in Ireland, it was not for want of trying. Save the 8th, one of the two main groups campaigning against the removal of the anti-abortion clause from the Irish constitution, hired Vote Leave's technical director, the Cambridge Analytica alumnus Thomas Borwick.

Save the 8th and the other anti-repeal campaign, Love Both, used apps developed by a US-based company, Political Social Media (PSM), which worked on both the Brexit and Trump campaigns. The small print told those using the apps that their data could be shared with other PSM clients, including the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and Vote Leave.

Irish voters were subjected to the same polarising tactics that have worked so well elsewhere: shamelessly fake "facts" (the claim, for example, that abortion was to be legalised up to six months into pregnancy); the contemptuous dismissal of expertise (the leading obstetrician Peter Boylan was told in a TV debate to "go back to school"); deliberately shocking visual imagery (posters of aborted foetuses outside maternity hospitals); and a discourse of liberal elites versus the real people. But Irish democracy had an immune system that proved highly effective in resisting this virus. Its success suggests a democratic playbook with at least four good rules.

Read more... (17 comments, 895 words in story)
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News and Views

 10 - 16 December 2018

by Bjinse - Dec 11, 57 comments

Your take on this week's news

 3 - 9 December 2018

by Bjinse - Dec 3, 96 comments

Your take on this week's news

 December Open Thread

by Bjinse - Dec 3, 24 comments

The main reason December is so jolly is because Santa knows where all the bad threads live

 November Open Thread

by Bjinse - Nov 6, 68 comments

Days decrease, and autumn grows, threads in everything

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