Author Archives: Mark Goodrich

Theresa May needs an LBJ

After the historically unprecedented defeat of May’s Brexit deal, what comes next?  In her speech to the House of Commons, Theresa May promised not to run the clock down and to reach out to senior parliamentarians to work out what Brexit deal could pass the House of Commons.  Unfortunately, this promising development was immediately undercut by briefing that she wished to maintain her “red lines” which just can’t be done if she wants to get a Brexit deal through Parliament.

It was said of Lyndon B Johnson that nobody knew better how to count votes in a legislature – an essential political skill in the USA where a division between the executive and the legislature is the norm.  Theresa May desperately needs an LBJ to tell her what deal can be passed in Parliament.

However, without claiming I have the skills of an LBJ, the size of the defeat makes it clear that she needs to switch 116 votes without losing any.  This rule out any minor fiddles and means she needs to find a group with that many votes to pass any legislation.  There are lots of smaller groupings with interesting ideas, but they don’t have the votes.

The only possible options with those kinds of votes are as follows:

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged | 13 Comments

Amongst the villains of Brexit, the #RemainerNow stand out as heroes

Amongst the chaos of last week, there were two events which stood out for me as changing the terms of the Brexit debate. The first was Theresa May’s statement outside Downing Street in which she acknowledged that one choice open to us if we rejected her deal, was “no Brexit at all”. The second was a clip from James O’Brien’s LBC show in which Bill rings up in tears because of his regret at his vote for leave in the Referendum. This has been very widely shared on social media, and it seems to have struck a real …

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged | 22 Comments

What about the arguments against a People’s Vote?

An article by Robert Shrimsley in the FT (https://www.ft.com/content/bad4d6e4-cad2-11e8-9fe5-24ad351828ab ) warning of the dangers of a People’s Vote has recently received much positive coverage.  Robert makes the best arguments against a People’s Vote that I have seen (and many others put them to me), so it is worth giving them serious consideration.

For those who can’t see the original article behind the paywall, Robert notes correctly that the People’s Vote campaign has taken off because of the intransigence of the hardliner Leavers who have pushed the country towards a hard Brexit rather than settling for a Norway-style deal.  He then makes four principal arguments:

1.    Although investigative journalism has exposed that Leavers were dishonest and cheated in the campaign, it cannot show that this was decisive;

2.    The “only real justifications for a second vote are a massive shift in public opinion or an unpredictable change in material circumstances”, both of which he says has not occurred;

3.    Remainers might not win a People’s Vote;

4.    However, if Remain does win, dangerous populism will be unleashed, and the country faces turmoil.

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged | 54 Comments

Brexit: Desperately seeking a BATNA

Opinion polls still show the country divided down the middle on whether Brexit is a good thing or not.

There has been a bit of movement in favour of the referendum on the deal (it is worth noting that it always does better when accurately described in that way rather than as a second referendum).  However, the really dramatic poll shift has been in the confidence of the government getting a good deal with two thirds now not confident.  The dichotomy between those figures and the 50/50 split is striking.

To some extent, this may be wishful thinking on behalf of those who think that there is still a good deal out there somewhere and the Tories just can’t find it.  However, it also likely reflects the dawning realisation that we have a desperately weak negotiating position.  The main reason for this is that the UK has a terrible BATNA.  In the jargon of negotiating theorists, a BATNA is your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement.  It is crucial because if your alternative isn’t too bad, you don’t have to give up too much and walk away easily if the price gets too high.  On the other hand, if your BATNA is awful, you just have to make concession after concession, especially if you are negotiating with somebody who knows it.  This is currently the position of the UK government.

The UK government’s stated BATNA is “no deal”.  As a BATNA, this is terrible because everyone knows (a) that it would inflict terrible damage on the economy and require lots of new bureaucracy where we have borrowed our regime from the EU (e.g. on nuclear regulation) and (b) we haven’t done anything like the necessary preparation for it.  So, to deal with point (b), the government is now being lobbied by Redwood et al to start spending vast sums of money on something which may well never happen.  Leaving aside the politics of spending such sums at a time of austerity, it does nothing to deal with (a).

Posted in News | Tagged | 34 Comments

Why Theresa May’s speech is good news

Theresa May’s speech today was a mixture of vacuous soundbites and ominous indicators of the direction of travel.  Shorn of the window-dressing, it is clear that she leads a government of the Hard Brexit.  She concluded with a nauseous section suggesting that the country is “coming together” after June’s referendum.  As one wag put it on Twitter, that is like setting a fire, burning the house down and expecting those who queried what you were doing to “come together” in the rebuilding project.  More seriously, by opting for a Hard Brexit, exiting the single market (ironically, an achievement of Margaret Thatcher) and almost certainly the customs union, she is demonstrating no respect for the 16 million people who voted Remain.

So, why do I think the speech is good news? The clue is today’s YouGov poll. This shows that the population currently splits as follows:

39%  – Hard Brexit

25% – Soft Brexit

23% – Remain in the EU after all

13% – Not sure

Pursuing a Soft Brexit would have been risky for May but not as risky as Hard Brexit.  For the first time, she has clearly put herself in backing a position supported only by a minority of voters.  This allows the divided Remain side to unite around opposition to the UK coming out of the single market (with much historic material from Dan Hannan and Boris Johnson to support them!).  It also allows them to peel off those Leavers who wanted to maintain single market access.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 69 Comments

An open letter to the leaders of the EU

I get it.  I really do.  We have been a difficult partner for the whole time we have been in the EU and its predecessors.  And after the Brexit referendum vote, you had to put up with Nigel Farage being his usual unpleasant self in the European Parliament.  You should know that many of us felt exactly the same as Mr Vytenis Andriukaitis whose facepalm went viral on social media (and we enjoyed his heartfelt blog as well).

So, I understand it when you demand that the UK get on and serve an Article 50 notice.  You want us to get on with it.  But I ask you to think again.

When I think of the Article 50 notice, I think of a scene in the Batman movie “The Dark Knight”. The Joker has rigged two ships full of explosives, one of hardened criminals and one of innocent civilians.  Each ship has a trigger to blow up the other one and save themselves.  The Tory leadership are like the boat of criminals – torn between a desire to trigger Article 50 to save their own skins and the consequences if they do.

One thing that I have heard a lot is that serving an Article 50 notice will reduce uncertainty.  That can’t be right.  If an Article 50 notice is served without a deal already being worked out in outline, uncertainty will massively increase because of the risk of a “Hard Brexit” in two years’ time.

Posted in News | Tagged and | 21 Comments

EU Referendum: What do we do now?

I can’t be the only person who is asking that question and I see that Alisdair Calder McGregor was posing it yesterday.

However, a lot of the responses seem to miss the point. We have not left the EU.  What a small majority of the country has voted for is for us to withdraw. That can only be done by triggering Article 50 and beginning discussions on the terms of exit (as even Leave recognises).

Only one country has ever left the EU – Greenland. Their Article 50 negotiations took 3 years and they only really had to discuss fish. Nobody seriously expects we can do it in less time than them and most experts think it could take 4 or 5 years. Even if Gove et al continue to ignore experts, they will need to come back to the Houses of Parliament with their deal and get it passed.

And what will that deal look like? It is hard to see how they could ever come back with a deal which allows EU citizens free movement. It is equally hard to see that the EU would ever allow access to the single market without such free movement. So, the deal presented would likely be a full exit which they would have to get through a parliament where the overwhelming majority of parliamentarians voted for Remain. 

Posted in News | Tagged | 63 Comments

Opinion: What can Sweden teach us about liberalism?

One of the great experiences in life is reading a text which suddenly throws new light on an issue or expresses a feeling which had been nagging away at you without reaching expression.  It has happened to me when I have read some of the classics of liberal thought.  And, bizarrely, it happened a few weeks ago when reading a column in the Guardian.

The column by Lars Tragardh expressed doubts as to whether the Swedish model (in its current manifestation under a centre-right government) was compatible with Cameron’s conservative ideology.  He pointed out that the Swedish combination of a …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 21 Comments
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    Oh lord I'm agreeing with Tony Greaves again.
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    " In the Liberal Democrats I often see a worrying attitude where members castigate success." No-one here has castigated success. People have castigated success at...
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    I did not say it was not a business. I said it was not a business "like any other".
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