Author Archives: Bernard Aris

Exit costs and wobbly dikes: Brexit could result in deluges in Britain

As you can imagine, I have been, as Dutchman, watching the developments this summer first in Lincolnshire and recently in Derbyshire around dikes and dams that turned out to be outdated, and uncertain to withstand rivers or lakes filled with excessive amounts of rainwater.

Even in low-lying, water conscious Netherlands we sometimes get caught out by a dike or dam breaking; but Rijkswaterstaat (RWS, founded in the Napoleonic era), our Public Works & Water-Management government agency, is ever alert. And RWS knows from experience that when a certain type of dike or dam is wobbly in one place, it is important to inspect all dikes and dams of the same type and building era, to prevent surprises when one or more similar dikes crumble. That message is always part of RWS press briefings around incidents: local government and irrigation specialists must go out and inspect dams in their area.

In January 1995, a part of the Netherlands where our great rivers (Rhine, Meuse, and tributaries) flow through in the province Gelderland were evacuated because heavy rains, upstream in the Belgian Ardennes and Alsace, meant excessive amounts of water were coming our way, and it wasn’t certain that the existing irrigation infrastructure could cope. In total 250.000 people had to evacuate, for periods from 5 to 15 days.

Up to then, the main attention concerning massive floodings had been concentrated on our North Sea coast, with the memory of the 1953 North Sea flood which was a massive disaster in both the Netherlands and the UK (Lincolnshire flooded up to 3 kilometres inland). But from 1995, RWS and the Benelux and German authorities started a masssive updating, straightening out and adaption program for rivers and internal dikes.

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No deal Brexit preparations: Dutch look closely but don’t see much (Part 1)

Whoever looks at British-Dutch relations, especially in trade and food (herring), you see a relationship dating back to the Roman Empire, with the Frisians (a tribe in the North of the present Netherlands) kicking off the chain of English/British-Dutch relationships. 

The modern relations can be traced back to the British-Dutch anti-Spanish alliance of queen Elizabeth I (sending over her confidant Leicester) in the Treaty of Nonsuch (1585; see Jonathan Israel’s book about the Dutch Republic; Clarendon/Oxford University Press; Oxford, 1995, p. 218-230). This treaty was implicit recognition of the Republic; and the shenanigans between Leicester and the Dutch stadholder and his minister Oldebarnevelt in 1585-87 gave definite form to the Republic, until then a confederation of rebel provinces. It ended up with Leicester returning home; but Nonsuch was reinforced and broadened in the 1598 Treaty of Westminster.

The Low Countries’ principalities trading with England (Flanders, Zeeland, Holland, Friesland) were all smaller than England, and this didn’t change with seven rebel provinces forming a republic; especially because shortly afterwards, under king James I, the union between England and Scotland started being formalized until the Acts of Union (1707). So the Dutch and Flemish peoples are used to look very closely what happens in their big neighbor  the UK, especially as it affects our (Dutch) trade relations (re-exporting a large part to the rest of the EU), and our and their national economy. The UK is around three to four times bigger than the Netherlands if you look at our populations and economies (GDP).

The hard Brexiteers around Boris Johnson are emphasising, now that a No Deal Brexit on their holy grail date of 31st  October seems ever more likely, that the British government is even better prepared than under the March Brexit deadline. 

We Dutch simply don’t believe them, because we see at best a piecemeal, halfhearted if not comically incompetent British preparation (hiring a shipping company without ships, aiming to disembark at a British port city that on BBC TV News does look more disheveled that well-prepared for intensive disembarkation operations).

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Von der Leyens promises to address some of the UK’s direst needs: Poverty, Social Security, Clean Air Cities

The speech by German minister Von der Leyen (VDL), the proposed president of the European Commission, appealing to the sceptical centre parties (Liberals, Social Democrats, Greens) in the European Parliament, brought the Brexit Party MEPs to howls of both approval and anguish, according to Dutch media.

When she regretfully accepted that the UK appears on the way out, Farage’s bench applauded wildly. But when she added that she is ready to extend negotiations beyond Halloween, those cheers instantly turned into jeers.

And in his response, Farage again trotted out the “EU = Soviet Eastern Bloc” trope, to which VDL responded “we can probably do without what you have got to say here”. Dutch media quoted VDL responding to Farage’s Orbanite allies:  “I didn’t expect to get your support”.

In her speech, and in the accompanying resignation of controversial EU insider/super-technocrat Martin Selmayr, many saw new points that address failings in the present EU procedures, decision-making and legislation:

  • Giving the European Parliament the right to initiative; possibly heralding a critical review of EU nomination, decision and policy making procedures;
  • Opening up a formal debate about transnational party lists and “Spitzenkandidaten” at the next European elections; and
  • Starting, in this Trumpian era, a debate in the EU Human & Civil Rights agenda about sexual violence and its female (and LGBTQ+) victims.

Which beggars the question: why leave the EU just when it finally addresses shortcomings and failures of its democracy and human rights?

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The unstoppable Rise and Fall of “Tony” or “Pony” Johnson

Will the Dutch Mark Rutte stay on being the only European Prime Minister who, sitting alongside President Trump during an official White House visit, dared to loudly and unambiguously contradict The Infallible Donald, and on US-EU trade relations no less? The Women’s Football World Championship showed that resisting (longer than others) an American onslaught is a Dutch speciality, but we would like some allies.

The British political reactions to the affair of the ambassadors leaked email comments about the Trump White House showed outsider Tory leadership contender Jeremy Hunt standing up for the ambassador sending his candid “long telegrams” just as George Kennan did in 1946, while Boris Johnson continued appeasing Trumps tender ego, the ITV debate being the clearest demonstration (see the Guardian and the BBC). Boris even almost-supported Trump disqualifying a British prime minister. Hopefully the discrete Mr. Johnson will do the same when he is PM; Trump spares no ally whatsoever when doing his early morning twitter fusillades.

If that doesn’t remind the British electorate of Tony Blair playing the “Iraq poodle” to president Bush junior (with foreign minister John Bolton pushing the WMD myth), the fact that Boris & Raab like Charles I and Buckingham still see proroguing Parliament as a normal way to push through European policies, should reinforce that analogy. In his Guardian interview about creating an “Boothroyd parallel parliament”, Rory “Realist Tory” Stewart reminds us that when Blair wanted to evade a vote on starting the disastrous Iraq War by prorogation, MP’s threatened to reconvene in Church House to demonstrate their opinion that a “War Powers vote” (my term) was obligatory.

The only difference between the Blair-Bush and Johnson-Trump relationship is that Boris, in his liberal mayorial affectation in 2015/6, was more forceful in disqualifying presidential candidate Trump, than Blair ever was about Bush during the 2000 presidential campaign.

Boris will absolutely hate being identified as a second Blair (wanting to put the UK “at the heart of Europe”, after defending the 1983 eurosceptic Labour platform); all the more reason to start calling him “Tony Johnson”.

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How able is “negotiator” Hunt as compared to Johnson?

The Tory leadership campaign of Jeremy Hunt is, according to himself and many supporting MPs in the media, based upon the premise that Hunt will be (far) more trusted and more easily welcomed at EU negotiating tables than Johnson. They say this is the case because the European players (national ministers, EU negotiators like Barnier) have come to know him as sitting Foreign Secretary, and that they would trust him more than Boris (who they also know from his accident-prone Brexit spell at the Foreign Office).

Hunt also insists he has experience as an entrepreneur, including negotiating deals, which Johnson lacks because he was a journalist, not a businessman, between his public school/Oxbridge education and his political career.

But right at the start of his term as Foreign Secretary, Mr Hunt made a massive negotiating gaffe while trying to use his personal background to curry favour with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

At the start of his business career, Hunt had learned Japanese to be able to work as an English language teacher in Japan in the late 1980s; and minister Wang Yi studied Japanese and was a former ambassador in Japan (2004-07). As a minister in Cameron’s shadow cabinet, Hunt in 2008 met and married his Chinese wife, Lucia Guo. As the new Foreign Secretary negotiating in Beijing in July 2018, Hunt and Wang Yi had been speaking in Japanese, when Hunt, switching to English, made his gaffe when he talked about his wife and her parentage. According to the BBC, Hunt said “My wife is Japanese – my wife is Chinese. Sorry, that’s a terrible mistake to make.” The company at the table politely laughed it off, and Hunt went on to say that he and his wife had close ties with his in-laws still living in the Chinese city Xi’an.

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Boris thinks Widdecombe and Non-payment will sway EU his way….

In his BBC interview by Laura Kuensberg (interview text here), Tory leadership contender Boris Johnson said he had a far better chance of realising an agreed Brexit than May had, because the political situation both in Britain and on the Continent, in Brussels, has been fundamentally transformed since the March 2019 Brexit Deadline (and the British European elections).

Johnson says that the EU leaders are scared because the newly elected Brexit Party – and Tory MEPs – are a new, powerful Eurosceptic force, putting pressure on the European Commission and Council from within the Euro Parliament (EP). I think Johnson’s argument is that now that Ann Widdecombe sits beside known Euro-haters like Farage and Daniel Hannan, EU leaders have started quaking in their shoes and want to lose (or “liberate”) these MEPs soon by agreeing any October 31 Brexit, with or without a deal.

Johnson forgets Brussels has seen off worse anti-system politician threats, like J.-M. le Pen MEP calling Sobibor’s gas chambers a “detail in history”; and prime ministers like Berlusconi suggesting a German Socialist playing KZ Lager guard; or Orban, expelled from the biggest EP party for infringing basic EU principles. Adding Widdecombe isn’t a threat; the Christian and Social Democrats simply include “Renew Europe” Liberals (with new LibDem MEPs!) and the Greens in EP politics; Orban, Tories and Brexiters (who insist the EU is a Gulag Soviet Union) are kept shouting outside.

Johnson’s second point: he’ll use “creative ambiguity” about paying the £39 billion alimony to pressure the EU into a “May deal without nasty Backstop bits” (my paraphrase of his sketched deal). But what if Brussels uses “creative conditionality” about refurbishing the deal: “if you won’t pay the first instalment on the £39 billion, we keep the Backstop in”. And giving EU citizens (many who couldn’t vote for the EP, the hostile environment persists) legislative security as UK inhabitants was already offered by May, so won’t elicit EU leniency around any Brexit Deal.

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With Tories deaf to Rory, and Corbyn rehashing Wilson, the Lib Dems should flourish even more

According to last night’s Newsnight, and Heather Stewart in the Guardian, Jeremy Corbyn told a very fractious shadow cabinet meeting that he was reading Harold Wilson’s memoirs as inspiration. Shadow ministers saw that as a signal that Corbyn, like Wilson, “is not ready to become a cheerleader” for EU membership. 

According to  those memoirs, published in  1986,  end in 1964, the year he became PM and  started grappling with the possibility of EEC accession which he asked for after vastly improving his government majority in 1966). 

In their book “Post-War Britain, 1945-1992” (Penguin Books, 1993), professors Sked & Cook tell us that Wilson as shadow Foreign Affairs spokesman  was “unenthusiastic” about the EEC and was “characteristically (..) content to follow rather than to lead”. Wilson wrote in 1962 that “a dying government doesn’t have the right (..) to take a divided nation into” the EEC.”

Andrew Marr (“A History of Modern Britain”; Pan/Macmillan, 2009, p. 295) writes about Wilsons opinion on the EEC in 1965: “the strongest view” he had about joining the EEC “was that he didn’t have a view”. And Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Wilson ) and Marr say Wilson never had a holiday on the continent; whereas his Tory successor Ted Heath had oodles of continental travels and ditto political conversations from the 1930’s onward (Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Heath ; and Marr, p. 295, 327). And Marr writes that Wilsons contribution to the 1975 EEC referendum was mumbling “vaguely in support, rather than actively making the European case” (p. 348).

You can see many similarities with Corbyn; the only difference is he never wrote that the dying May/Johnson government doesn’t have the right to push the divided UK out of the EU.

So we cannot possibly, ever expect any strong Remain endorsement from Wilsonite Corbyn.

On the other side we have Farage’s raging Brexit Party, and a field of four Tory leadership candidates with unicornish ideas of blackmailing, cajoling the EU (with threats of No Deal and no Severance payments) into a “good deal”. The only voice of reason and realism about that, Rory Stewart, stayed in as long as he was useful to push Raab out, and then was left dangling.

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Prorogueing Parliament will scupper any EU goodwill in Trade Talks, prorogueing the Tory Party Conference is better

Hearing British politicians talk in a cavalier way about proroguing parliament to push through any controversial policy should remind the British of the age when prorogueing and circumventing Parliament was all the rage (and instilled a different rage in the electorate): the reigns of kings James I and Charles I. In trying to get money without having to ask Parliament, Charles adulterated the “Ship Money” statute by applying it not just to the coastal and harbor cities, but to the whole of England. According to its Wikipedia item, demanding Ship Money of its own was possibly even an infringement …

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A Photographic Salute to the Lib Dem Resurrection

I am sending our best wishes from D66 and The Netherlands for the European Elections tomorrow. Here are some pictures from our own European election campaign.

This first picture is a group of big letters “WEUROPE” (pronounce “We Europe”). D66 activists travel around big cities with these letters, to point out that we are the most pro-European Dutch party. The people behind the letters are D66 MP’s and activists.

The second picture is me standing in front of those letters, holding up the famous phrase from the Preamble to the LibDem Constitution.

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

The pair are meant as a salute from D66 to your resurrection struggle, as two comrades in arms in the same pro-EU struggle, embracing the same Social Liberal principles. Good luck!

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Change UK peacocking threatens to let jingoists and the far right run amok

As a lifelong active member of the Dutch party “Democrats 66” (D66), I know how difficult constitutional, structural and cultural improvements of state (and European) democracy can be. My party had both improving national democracy (example: direct election of the prime minister who would lead the formation of the post-election coalition government) and direct European elections in its 1966 founding manifesto,

As anybody consulting Wikipedia can read, D66 was founded by a coalition of both members of existing parties (including an orthodox Marxist one) and unaffiliated, new citizens who’d become concerned that Dutch politics was stagnating and becoming oligarchic. (From 1963 until 1967, there were three different coalition governments on the basis of the 1963 general election results).

So, I can sympathise with the pride of Chuka Umunna over assembling a similar British party (wanting to renew the existing party democracy, solidly pro-EU feeling; assembled from active party members and concerned unaffiliated citizens) in Change UK.

We entered the Dutch parliament in 1967 with a spectacular 7 seats (of 150) thanks to proportional voting, but struggled to be heard for years.

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Reflections on the Tory Party Revolution – part two

Conservative Party logo
Part 2: from the 1940’s generational change to the growing hostility to Europe
Reading Alan Clark’s history of the Tories 1922-1997 (Phoenix/Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999), and Alan Sked and Chris Cooks “Post-War Britain” (Penguin, London, 4th. ed., 1993), you see how in 1940-51, while party leader Churchill was concentrating on foreign affairs (winning a war until ’45, then uniting Europe in his “interlocking circles”: Europe, the Commonwealth, and NATO), the other parts of the Tory party reacted to more domestic modernising trends and proposals. (See about Churchill’s priorities: Clark, Tories, p. 321-22; Sked & Cook, Post-War, p. 77-78).

Alongside the “Post-War Problems Central Committee” (PWPCC) formed at Tory party HQ in 1941 under Education Secretary “Rab” Butler, there emerged a progressive “Tory Reform Group” (TRG) of “Young Turks”. Clark says Food minister Lord Woolton (Tory from 1945) was the only Cabinet minister caring about “Post-War Problems”.

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Reflections on the Tory Party Revolution – part one

Conservative Party logoPart 1: From the 2019 Constituency Revolt to the 1846 Corn Law Split, and back

In its April 22th coverage of the Tory Constituency Party leaders’ revolt in demanding an “Extraordinary General Meeting” to shake May’s throne, the BBC inserted the link to its article from August 2018 about how, between the Chequers Cabinet Brexit Agreement and May’s disastrous Tory 2018 Autumn Conference, a Hard Brexit revolt started brewing in the Tory grassroots.

That 2018 article, by BBC researcher Georgia Roberts, referred to the Tory party Conference revolt of 1950, right after the general election that slashed Labours massive majority, when the Tory grassroots “educated the platform” by pushing through the “build 300.000 houses a year”-target for its 1951 election manifesto (whereas the Tory front bench had reacted to Attlee’s nationalization drive by retreating from state direction). That promise turned out to be extremely popular, election-winning (for Churchill, and later Macmillan), and long remembered. Previewing the 2018 Tory Autumn Conference, Roberts wonders if it will see a similar “educating” Brexiteer uprising; it halfway did.

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Dutch opinion poll: Dutch Government coalition supports Second Referendum

For the past few decades, pollster Maurice de Hond (our Professor Curtice) has published his political opinion polls every Sunday. Now that the possibility of a No Deal Brexit looms as of next Friday, it is interesting to see what Dutch political parties think of the present Brexit situation and what should be done.

First of all, there is a broad Dutch consensus, the parliamentary and procedural shenanigans in the Commons since December having convinced many Dutchmen that the structures and culture of British politics are totally wrong for solving existential questions like Brexit-or-Remain. The winner-takes-all mentality instilled by the …

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2012: Under an EU deadline & government collapse, the Dutch parliament grabs the reins Part 2

Read part 1 here:

As Prime Minister Rutte had announced in his press conference on Saturday, when Parliament reconvened on Tuesday, 24th April, his Chancellor (Finance cabinet minister) Jan Cornelis de Jager started doing the rounds with all opposition parties. He was surprised when, arriving in the meeting room of the D66 parliamentary party, he found the leaders and Treasury spokespeople not only of D66, but also of GroenLinks and ChU sitting there to confer with him on a new Dutch budget package for Brussels.  In telephone (and email) rounds on Sunday, and meetings on Monday, the top people of these three parties had hammered out a common set of adjustment proposals to put to the Rutte government. Mr. De Jager played along finding this convenient, but also conferred with all other opposition parties. Dutch Labour (PvdA), back then still a big party in parliament, refused to join the “Kunduz” trio because they thought Netherlands shouldn’t strictly adhere to the 3% GDP norm (Dutch Neokeynesianism was invented by the PvdA in the late 1940’s).

Within two days of furious negotiating, on Thursday April 26th, the coalition government parties VVD and CDA, and the trio D66, GroenLinks and ChU had hammered out the outlines of an adjusted package. Coincidentally they together represented 77 of the 150 Commons seats; another orthodox protestant party SGP, 3 MP’s) joined it, and the “Kunduz Coaltion” or “Spring Agreement” package was agreed by the Second Chamber that evening. It was sent off to Brussels immediately, only just before the EMU/SGP.

The priorities of the three opposition parties shone through in the adjustments made.

D66 got the raising of the state pension age from 65 to 67 years of age (a point we had been hammering away at in opposition from 2007 onwards) and reinstatement of the low VAT tariff for theatrical performances; ChU got cuts on subsidizing palliative care for the dying removed. Being three decidedly internationalist opposition parties, we also got the 0.7% GDP norm for development aid reinstated; and being three just as decidedly green parties, we got green measures inserted (coal-fired electrical power plants started paying coal tax along with all other enterprises; investing in/subsidizing home isolation and durable ways of building houses and edifices). D66 and GroenLinks even got VVD and CDA to start diminishing Mortgage Interest Tax Relief on private home-owners (a sacred cow until then). We had to swallow some other things of course (raising the upper VAT tariff from 19 to 21%; scrapping tax freedom from employee allowances for home-work travel expenses). But we (D66) were proud as Punch that we helped the Netherlands adhere to EMU norms we entered into under the Maastricht Treaty and EMU agreements. ECSC/EEC/EU founder Netherlands remained a faithful member, losing the PVV obstructionists (who since withered in opposition).

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2012: Under an EU deadline & government collapse, the Dutch parliament grabs the reins Part 1

I never in my wildest dreams thought it possible that, after the English Civil War, any English or British parliament would intervene while a government was collapsing (and straining under an EU deadline), grab the reins and impose its preference. But that’s what I’ve just been watching live on the March 25th late BBC News and Newsnight.

It reminded me of the only instance in Dutch politics when, with an EU/EMU deadline looming, the government lost its majority; with the party giving confidence and supply stalking out and staying out, and opposition MP’s saved the day.

In this two-piece article, I’ll explain what happened; I think it goes to show that with responsible opposition parliamentarians involved, parliament taking the initiative from an amputated government can be positive. 

It was 2012, two years into the first (Mark) Rutte government ( with ministers from VVD (car-loving Liberals) and CDA (Christian Democrats), and with Geert Wilders’ PVV giving the support to make up a majority (76 of 150 Commons seats) but without ministers. VVD and CDA had a coalition agreement; PVV supported most of it, but abstained on the foreign bits: (1) Dutch ISAF participation in pacifying Afghanistan (in Kunduz province and (2) European politics: anything remotely related to growing an “ever closer union” as professor Desmond Dinan describes it in his EU history handbooks, starting with EMU. And the PVV got our development aid lowered below the UN norm of 0,7% of GDP.

In 2011, Rutte got the foreign bits of his policy through parliament with the support of D66 (social liberals), GroenLinks (centrist-progressive Greens) and ChU (Orthodox and green protestants); this was afterwards called the (opposition part of the) “Kunduz coalition”.

Being a faithful EMU member in the Greek EMU crisis, and under the EU’s Stability & Growth Pact, the EMU rule book, we had to submit the outlines of our 2013 Dutch budget-package to Brussels and the ECB in Frankfurt by the end of April for clearance: did we adhere to the tough EMU/SGP budgetary norms we were subjecting Greece, Spain and Ireland to?  If we missed the deadline or didn’t adhere to norms, a EMU fine of a billion euros threatened.

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Part 2: Rutte, from Cameron buddy to May’s stern advocate

The liberal Dutch parties VVD and D66 have two distinct identities and historical predecessors. The VVD is more a car-loving, classical-liberal party with, since 1990’s leader Bolkestein, anti-federalist EU instincts, and has less of an environmental record than D66, who premièred gay marriage and are electoral reformers, very similar to the Lib Dems.

Contacts between the Lib Dems and D66 (both social-liberal) are warmer and broader than the VVD-Lib Dems. In Chris Bowers’ biography of Clegg, VVD figures once (p. 104), whereas D66 & Lousewies Vander Laan are on pages  102-3, 104 and 266-7 as Clegg supporters, also in the Coalition.

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May gets blunt Brexit warning from old Dutch ally & EU statesman Rutte: Part I

With the “Bercow Bombshell” (BB), his statement to the house on March 18th, quoting Erskine May’s 1844 anthology of Commons’ customary laws and Standing Orders, that Theresa May can’t have an eternal Groundhog Day rotation resubmitting her Brexit Deal, it has become impossible for May to offer anything new to the EU summit of March 21st.

According to Laura Kuensberg (late BBC evening news, March 18th), that means the EU has no reason to grant May a short prolonging of article 50, making it inevitable that the EU leaders will propose a long prolongation; which would result in a much softer Brexit (the UK having to remain subject to more EU directives, procedures and institutions than under the May deal).

To predict the mood of that EU summit, one can quote the French journalist in Newsnight (March 18th), who indicated that Le Monde, on March 15th, lost hope of May rescuing her deal, saying “let’s get cracking, let’s make a do-able (prolongation) arrangement”. Earlier, Macron said on March 13th that “the solution lies entirely in London”, which must offer a reason for prolongation to make him consider that. The French mood looks unwilling to tolerate any more British “one more heave” pleas for a prolongation; and to start asking concessions.

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May should follow her kindergarten logic

For the past half year (if not longer), Prime Minister Theresa May has, everytime she appeared at the Despatch Box to talk about Brexit (often postponing votes and talking platitudes), told the broad mass of MP’s anxious about getting a No Deal Brexit cliff-jump: “The best way of avoiding a No Deal situation is voting for the deal I’m putting on the table; there is no alternative”.

For the past weeks, she’s been forced by her own party to see if, in the case of the Backstop (which became necessary because of May’s own “red lines”), there could be a slight …

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“No dogs allowed” is back

On the 14th of February, the Dutch Foreign minister was driven to distraction by a big blue Brexit muppet on his desk, impeding him to get anything done (see:https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/feb/14/project-fur-brexit-is-a-big-blue-monster-say-the-dutch ). Only him being bold already, saved him from pulling out his hair. Today, Monday 25th, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte was all over British news media, desperately pleading with the British government to get a Brexit deal through parliament, and thereby avoiding a No Deal Brexit. A no deal Brexit will not only disrupt, nay destroy the British economy, its international traffic of people, medicines and foodstuffs, but will also hit their oldest trans-Channel ally and trading partner: the Netherlands, like a ton of bricks (equaling Napoleons “Continental System”, 1806-13; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_System ).

The reasons the Dutch government (fully representing the fears and feelings of its 17 million citizens) makes such a show of its disturbance, annoyance, and grief about the impending chaos Brexit, especially the No Deal variant Rees-Mogg and Boris insist on, will bring, are to be seen from two severe warnings which were also covered by Dutch media today.

On the commercial radio station “Business News Radio” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BNR_Newsradio ), an affiliate of our Financial Times-like daily, chairman Anton Valk of the Dutch-British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC; see http://www.nbcc.co.uk/about-the-nbcc/organisation ) was urging all Dutch enterprises importing anything from Britain, from British companies to urgently look elsewhere for sources of what they’re importing, warning them those imports can be blocked or held up in a No Deal Brexit situation now looming large on the horizon. Needless to say, if the substitute source (in most cases: from inside the EU) proves to be better, its logistics more trustworthy, the British company who was the source, seriously risks losing that contract forever. The eventual delaying of the Brexit Day from 29th of March until say this summer or next year doesn’t diminish the relevance of those warnings one bit; the enduring uncertainty is instead likely to encourage continental importers to seek certainty with EU substitutes to former UK trading partners.

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The Shamima Begum Case: As with Brexit, the Dutch are better prepared for what is coming anyway

As has become a tradition over the past decades, the LibDems and Dutch sister party D66 sing from exactly the same hymn sheet on the subject of taking back “ISIS jihad brides” and their children from the Syrian-Kurdish YPG/SDF prisoner camps they’re housed in at the moment.

And just as usual, the ALDE right wing (in the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s VVD) is fervently opposed to taking back anybody who has moved to the ISIS Caliphate since 2014, thus bending liberal, judicial and humanist principles to populist kneejerk reactions.

In the Netherlands, Rutte and the VVD know they stand alone (among non-populist, centrist, normal thinking parties) in refusing re-entry; and they know they’re ignoring a special article in the Dutch Constitution. The country of Grotius declares in article 90 of our constitution:

The government stimulates the development of the international rule of law and juridical order.

Scrupulous care for human rights, and the welcome (and where necessary judgment) to “lost sons”, are thus part of what Dutch governments and prime ministers must stand for. And D66 has a traditional attitude of caring about such aspects especially.

In a TV election debate in 2015, VVD leader and (then also) Prime Minister Rutte shocked everybody present by agreeing to the statement: “people travelling to the ISIS Caliphate are better off dying there and shouldn’t be allowed to return”.

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Dutch health & pharmacy sector scrambles:  delivery of 50 vitally crucial medicines and appliances threatened by a No Deal Brexit

People who know about the world market for medical supplies and medicines, basic human necessities in any civilized society, can only agree with Donald Tusk  that many bullhorning Brexiteers never did have a clue how to safely execute Brexit in all its aspects and consequences. 

In her article of 31st January, Caron Lindsay pointed to the growing insecurity around the delivery to British patients and the NHS generally of medicines etcetera imported from the continental EU. But it also disrupts patient security on the continent, and in the Netherlands in a life-threatening way.

On Wednesday 6th February, the Dutch parliament received the second alarming letter in a month from the relevant health minister, Bruno Bruins  about the supply of medicines and appliances like pacemakers certified (for EU use) in the UK. I’m using news items from NOS, our BBC, because it is the headline in all public radio and tv news bulletins today.

A month ago Mr Bruins wrote to parliament, saying that the Netherlands imports around a third (value: 2 billion euros/year from a total of 6,6 billion/year) of all its medicines and appliances from or via the UK; part of those imports are re-exported onwards. NOS quotes him writing that British medical imports are 2700 products (UK being a very big international player) and that Dutch doctors and hospitals use intermediaries and not always are sure where those products come from. He’s asked everybody in the Dutch health system to check where every product comes from and where it was certified for the EU market. If possible, UK producers or providers should be asked to transfer CE certification to the continent, Mr. Bruins wrote to buyers in the Dutch medical sector.

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The ignored nuclear aspects of Brexit

Apart from the power plants, everybody ignored the (trucks with) medical isotopes.

This another two-piece article.

In the first article I talk about the Euratom aspect of the EU, totally ignored in 99% of Brexit campaigns and in present Brexit debates. The aspect of transporting nuclear material for medicinal purposes brings these atomic aspects of the EU very close to everybody’s private lives: the survival of cancer patients

In the second article, I follow on by pointing out that the UK turns out to be the international transport and EU certification hub in the international trade of medicines, medical supplies and appliances. That has a massive impact on the Dutch (and possibly French and German) health system as a whole when a No Deal Brexit occurs.

 As we all know by now, Brexit means a total resetting, readjusting, if not disruption of European-UK ties and supply chains build up in centuries, but especially since Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher (but NOT duplicitous Wilson and NOT Corbyn) led the way in making Britain a member of the EEC and Euratom. 

For example: I give a bottle of champagne to anybody who can point to a substantial (part of a) Brexiteers speech about maintaining (and paying only from the British budget) a safe and secure, that is: Euratom-like safety regime around the British civilian nuclear infrastructure (both the existing power plants and reactors, and those presently being build and/or abandoned by their foreign sponsors). 

But another ignored aspect deals with  the just-in-time transport of nuclear items for medicinal purposes. 

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Dutch ambassador flabbergasted by antique ICT used by HM Customs during Brexit

A recent interview with the Dutch ambassador in London shows precisely why the Dutch, usually a sober, very anglophile people, watch the London political scene(s) with horror, astonishment, and deep pity for the ordinary people who end up holding the bag of Brexit. Rich public schoolboys like Rees-Mogg and Boris won’t suffer from their overseas investments (NOT in Britain!), but neither do they seem to really care about the millions of people in rust belt and abandoned regions of the UK who voted for Brexit as a desperate cry for help, more than out of national pride, or Johnsons ideological hatred of Brussels. The action group “Led by donkeys” (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jan/16/billboard-campaign-reminds-voters-of-mps-brexit-promises ) with its Twitter-poster campaign confirms the worst fears of Dutch Brexit watchers of who is leading the Brexit charge of the light brigade, with scant facts supporting their empty, false promises up to this day.

In an  interview in the national newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algemeen_Dagblad ), of Monday 4th of February,  the Dutch ambassador in London, Mr Simon Smits, told about the voyage aboard a Dutch freight truck from Schiphol (Amsterdam) airport to Heathrow, and a working visit to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), he’d recently made to see for himself how prepared Dutch and British truckers, their customs, authorities and others involved in keeping transport rolling are in these Brexit times (see: https://www.ad.nl/politiek/onze-enige-zekerheid-is-onzekerheid~affc3a40/ ). Today, with Britain in the EU, the trip went as smoothly as could be expected, but ambassador Smits was flabbergasted that HMRC still runs the MS-DOS software in its computers. The only advantage ambassador Smits could see was that present-day hackers would be flummoxed by this antediluvian software from the 1980s/’90s, but this badly needs an update before Brexit is upon us. As I remember it, you need to insert first a start-up floppy disc, then a “system” floppy, and finally the “text” floppy in a computer to work that system; very time consuming with thousands of trucks, containers or passengers awaiting handling. Moreover, if it breaks down the recovery takes more time too. It reminded me of the outcry when the newest British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elisabeth was shown to run the somewhat more recent Windows XP software (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/27/hms-queen-elizabeth-running-outdated-windows-xp-software-raising/ ). A centuries-old trading nation running this outdated, vulnerable software in a strategic border (and state income) service in the 21st century… unbelievable.

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged | 32 Comments

Part 2: Present consumer price hikes and the environmental cleanup.

There are similarities between what happened in 2016-’19 in Britain and the Netherlands both in economics and politics and in the people’s perception and polling reaction.

In 2016-’17 the EMU (including us Dutch) was crawling out of the banking and Euro crisis, and Britain was relieved that the Kladderadatsch announced during the EU referendum campaign didn’t materialise substantially. But while the economy recovered (Holland) or stayed even (Britain), people saw that their buying power flatlining, while trusted big high street store chains (V&D here, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%26D, dozens in Britain) collapsed, and while big problems in health care (caring at home …

Posted in News | 13 Comments

Part 1 (of 2): The “Dunkirk” myth, and Andrew Marr’s facts about that

This is a two-article set; the first looking at the real “Dunkirk” mentality in 1940-’45 up to 1954; the second at Dutch and British present-day politics.

My first point is: no-one can use opinion polls in proving that the “Dunkirk Spirit” about “surviving without flinching” structural shortages, even: rationing, of daily necessities like fresh “fruit and veg”, medicine, etcetera, was as widespread or as solid in 1940-’44 as the postwar legend has it. Opinion polls were a new thing; the first big Gallup polls in British politics and society only started being conducted from 1944-’45 onwards (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_poll ). Moreover, …

Posted in Op-eds | 57 Comments

Dutch Parliamentary Brexit-watchers roundly condemn flippancy towards British people

As everybody reading the excellent study of history since Caesar’s times of the North Sea trade by Oxford historian and former BBC journalist Michael Pye, “The Edge of the World: How the North Sea made us what we are” can attest, the trade relations between the British/English and the Dutch (Frisians) Celtic tribes was the beginning of 20 centuries of close economic and ethnic ties. The DNA of inhabitants of areas from Kent to York is indistinguishable from that of people living in Friesland and Holland in the Netherlands; and Frisian is halfway the English and Dutch language. Migration and trade in wool, cloth, grain, herring, etc., been going on, even when Napoleon didn’t want it to (1803-1813); John Locke wrote important (Liberal) books seeking shelter here.

Ever since the 4th Anglo-Dutch war (1780-’84), the Dutch have recognised the British as their senior and vital partner in those economic and cultural relations; and the Dutch pressed general De Gaulle to admit England in the EEC for those same reasons.

But one aspect of how the Dutch see the British people and British politics has been fundamentally changed by the way the UK has been handling the Brexit problem, from the Referendum campaign in spring 2016 to the present day. That can be concluded by what 3 of the 4 official “Brexit Watching delegates” of the Dutch parliament said on Dutch public radio on Wednesday, 14th of January 2019; coincidentally those 3 were from parties of the present Dutch government coalition, so important advisors of both parliament and government.

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Desperate Brexiteers try to pick and choose

According to The Independent, during the second instalment of the Brexit ‘Meaningful vote’ debate, Downing Street has agreed to let the Commons pick and choose around the crucial Backstop articles in the agreement Theresa May and Brussels reached. The agreement is legally binding, an official agreement or treaty between London and the EU.

On the Institute of Government website last December, former IoG expert Simon Hogarth said such an option could mean Downing Street violating its international obligations it freely entered into. That’s what the Hugo Swire Amendment is proposing.

If the Brexiteers in Downing Street or the Commons think this is going to wash in international politics, they are completely bonkers and political ignoramuses.

The Dutch know from bitter experience how swift, tough and compelling the international reaction will be if any country, Great Britain or small Netherlands, tries to opportunistically tinker with such a legally binding international agreement.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 28 Comments

Love, actually

A message to Theresa May & all Britons on Brexit

Here is a video column from the D66 (Dutch Social-Liberal, pro-European sister party), featuring Kees Verhoeven, our MP for European Affairs.

Hope you enjoy!

https://twitter.com/D66/status/1072408573475463168

#makelovedontBrexit

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Party Leadership change at D66: Veteran Pechtold hands over to young talent Jetten

The coalition government has always been difficult for Dutch social liberals; but that never discouraged us from taking responsibility in the national interest. Both the VDB of the years 1901-1946 and my party D66 (founded 1966) have suffered electoral losses because they participated in coalition governments (and Dutch politics always have those), limiting their ability to build profiles on all possible subjects.

Another similarity is that the VDB was the first in the 1930’s to attack principle the pro-Nazi party NSB, and under the party leadership of Alexander Pechtold (2006-2018; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Pechtold ) we were and are the first, and the most insistent and principal attacker of both islamophobe Geert Wilders and Jared Taylor-racism adept Thierry Baudet (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thierry_Baudet ).

In 2003-’06 we suffered in a coalition with VVD and CDA (they used opposition Populist MP’s to press rightist measures) resulting in significant losses (locally and nationally) in 2006. Former cabinet minister Pechtold became party leader and re-energised and professionalised our party organisation. He attacked Wilders and tried to get necessary but unpopular measures (raising the state pension age; environmentalism; Europeanism) through parliament. These activities resulted in a spectacular resurrection of D66 (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democrats_66 ) from then on.

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged | 2 Comments

Steve Bannon builds “Dad’s Army”-brigade for Farage-type Europhobes

The ever-valiant editors of Liberator magazine, who make the Lib Dem glee club sing from the same sheet, have just published a guide to discern all the opinionmakers, leaders and groups in the Brexiteer and Europhobe bubble. And according to the European edition of Politico Magazine, Steve Bannon, the beast from Breitbart, is assembling what could be called the “Dad’s Army” of Eurosceptics and Europhobes discarded by their own groups, or whose sell-by date has long expired.

Using Breitbart as his platform, Bannon had (in the years 2012-16) assembled an assortment of rightwing, libertarian, neonazi and other extremist splinters, and used frequent interviews with tycoon Donald Trump to attract Trumpian voters to get them in touch with those ideas, to solidify their prejudices and their hate of mainstream, fact-loving media. 

Now that Trump has fired him, and Robert  Mercer has banned him from Breitbart , Bannon is trying to repeat what he did to rightwing fringe America; but according to Politico he isn’t having as much luck as he had with Trump.

Like most political currents, Populism and Euroscepticism have to go through an initial phase of competing opinionmakers, theorists and loudmouth demagogues; but the jingoism and preference for “strongman politics” (a leader, statesman able to make sweeping structural changes in a national political culture an – debate), means that the phase of competing schools inside Populism and Euroscepticism endures longer. Populists in one country prefer homegrown leaders, not from neighboring countries, let alone the US.

Posted in News | Tagged and | 6 Comments
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