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 . . .

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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 . . .

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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 . . .

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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 . . .

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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 . . .

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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 . . .

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

24 April 2017

On the Record | Primrose Day

Please see my latest post for The Quarterly Review, ‘Primrose Day’:

Pity. If Theresa May had any historical nous, she would have postponed divulging her polling intentions by one day and announced her plans the following morning, Primrose Day — once a high holiday in Conservative circles.

For April 19th is the anniversary of the death in 1881 of Benjamin Disraeli, the Victorian premier who in many ways wrote the manual for successful Tory leaders. Rumoured to be Disraeli’s favourite flower, a primrose wreath was sent to his funeral by a mourning Queen Victoria. Lord Randolph Churchill — Sir Winston’s father — never one to let an occasion pass him by, coined the phrase Primrose League to take advantage of the deceased leader’s popular appeal. For decades, Conservative party ranks were filled with thousands of loyal members from Primrose Leagues across the United Kingdom.

But Dizzy would have admired Mrs May’s electoral gambit. ‘In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill,’ she explained to the press. ‘The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.’ ‘The country is coming together, but Westminster is not,’ she lamented.

So, the Prime Minister reasons, ‘we need a general election and we need one now, because we have at this moment a one-off chance to get this done while the European Union agrees its negotiating position and before the detailed talks begin.’ Disraeli, a wily tactician himself, relished thwarting his political adversaries by ‘dishing the Whigs.’

Read more . . .

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

13 February 2017

On the Record | Brexit’s Progress

Please see my latest post for The Quarterly Review, ‘Brexit’s Progress’:

‘MPs hand Theresa May the starting gun on Brexit’. That is how the Independent recorded last Wednesday’s ‘second reading’ in the UK House of Commons [1st February] to permit the Conservative government to begin exiting the European Union. And what a process it has been.

Many will argue that Brexit has been in the works since September 1988, when then prime minister Margaret Thatcher argued 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.’

This became known as her ‘Bruges speech’, and inspired countless Britons to struggle for UK sovereignty against Continental encroachments. An eponymous ‘Bruges Group’, with Lady Thatcher as its founding president, was formed the next year to continue the fight.

Unrest smoldered under successive Labour governments, culminating in widespread disgust at the passing of the Lisbon Treaty — the compromise alternative when a formal agreement failed to receive sufficient votes from member states to pass, and for critics a ‘constitution’ in all-but-name for a federal Europe.

Attempting to quell dissent among his Eurosceptic MPs, coalition prime minister David Cameron promised an ‘in/out referendum’ early in 2013 and, in February last year, called for a June 23rd vote — which ‘Leave’ campaigner Boris Johnson called Britain’s own ‘Independence Day’.

Mr. Cameron, who resigned after leading the unsuccessful Remain camp, was succeeded by Theresa May, who vowed to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and initiate talks to pull Britain out of the EU.

But not so fast. Or ‘festina lente’, as the Romans used to say.

Read more . . .

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

02 February 2017

On the Record | Making a Case for Trump’s Entrepreneurial Inaugural Address

Please see my latest wire for The American Spectator, ‘Making a Case for Trump’s Entrepreneurial Inaugural Address’:

PRESS RELEASE

Hell’s Justice Department issues forth this “Devil’s Advocate” brief…

We are compelled to respond to the Institute of Economic Affairs’ policy head Ryan Bourne’s excellent analysis of President Donald Trump’s paean to protectionism in his first Inaugural Address. (See how we devils like to taunt our colleagues in the #NeverTrump department?) In response to the President’s admonition to “Buy American and Hire American,” Bourne replies that “If Trump goes down the protectionist route, he’ll be hurting American consumers and the growth potential of the US economy.”

In general, we agree with Bourne on the benefits of free trade: lower prices, greater and more diverse availability of goods and services, specialization as a facet of the division of labor, greater productivity, and overall more wealth for all. Yet it also behooves us to mention drawbacks to free trade, for those who lose their jobs to foreign competition and who must either take up new employment with lower emoluments, re-train, or relocate to more financially promising communities. Some, sadly, will find all these alternatives unpalatable or impossible to fulfill. In the larger scheme of things, these are short-term drawbacks, but for the individuals and families involved, they are no small matter and the negative impact can be great.

Nevertheless, we Devil’s Advocates can point to two elements of President Trump’s Inaugural that may give free traders consolation.

Read more . . .

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My thanks to editor Wlady Pleszczynski of The American Spectator.

25 January 2017

On the Record | Supreme Court of Britain Insists That Brexit Vote Goes Through Parliament

Please see my latest wire for The New York Sun, ‘Supreme Court of Britain Insists that Brexit Vote Goes Through Parliament’:

Americans tired of presidential end runs around Congress will sympathize with the Supreme Court ruling out of London that Her Majesty’s Government cannot act alone but must pass legislation in Parliament before triggering Brexit negotiations to leave the European Union.

Following this summer’s referendum vote, Prime Minister May promised to initiate Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin procedural talks for EU withdrawal. Opponents challenged the government before the High Court in early November, arguing that the executive, by acting unilaterally, was usurping parliamentary sovereignty.

The Government countered that, through executive power based on the royal prerogative and buttressed by the majority vote, its Brexit plans were constitutional. The High Court thought otherwise and ruled against the Government, which in turn appealed to the Supreme Court.

Complications ensued when the constituent countries of the United Kingdom joined in the mid-December hearings, contending that Whitehall diktat threatened the equal prerogatives of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, which should have the right to consult on and veto future Brexit developments.

Read more . . .

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

19 January 2017

On the Record | May Takes a Step Forward to British Independence with an Eye Out for Trump

Please see my latest wire for The New York Sun, ‘May Takes a Step Forward to British Independence with an Eye Out for Trump’:

Prime Minister May’s Lancaster House speech outlining the British government’s Brexit agenda takes an impressive step forward in Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union — and keeps a weather eye out for the man who is about to become President Trump. Brexit was “a vote to restore . . . our parliamentary democracy, national self-determination, and to become even more global and internationalist in action and in spirit.”

The Prime Minister opened with an apologia, setting out the reasons for Britons’ June decision to leave the EU and set out once more on their historic path of international engagement. “The decision to leave the EU represents no desire to become more distant to you, our friends and neighbours,” Mrs. May assured. “It was no attempt to do harm to the EU itself or to any of its remaining member states.” The lovelorn will recognize the “it’s not you, it’s us.”

Mrs. May detailed a dozen markers that will guide her Brexit strategy, from negotiating a new free trade agreement with the Union (maintaining and revising those current provisions that work for both parties) to normalizing relations for EU citizens living and working in the UK (and vice-versa), while assuring member countries of Britain’s continuing commitment to mutually beneficial co-operation in matters of continental security, defence, and cultural engagement.

Europe was not Mrs. May’s only audience. While England is the dominant “kingdom” in the Union, the Prime Minister assured the administrations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland that their concerns and suggestions will be heard at Westminster. Strengthening “the precious union between the four nations of the United Kingdom” is also part of the Brexit framework, as the referendum vote demonstrated the urban-rural divide and the tensions between England and the periphery regions.

Read more . . .

One point raised in the wire, to counter both prime minister Theresa May’s ‘modern industrial strategy’ and President-elect Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ protectionist policy, I believe needs to be especially emphasised: ‘Far better to look to future prospects than past accomplishment and base economic policy on the pillars of property, competition, innovation, and entrepreneurship.’ It is the basis of classical liberal economics and, as the French say, la théorie des débouchés (‘law of markets’).

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