Sunday, February 10, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 10.2.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • We first heard about this enterprising chap in our local newspapers but now he's gone international. One wonders why they haven't been able to stop him. Perhaps he's a one-man mafia, with powerful friends.
  • El País has been running a series of fotos by one Ioene Saiza on English scenes. I can't figure out why, except to show how sad and poor everyone there is ahead of Brexit. Click here for one example. 
  • The Tax Office here in Galicia - A Facenda - has been looking for illegal properties on which no tax is being paid, using drones among other things. And they’ve found some. 6,500, in fact. I think just in Pontevedra province alone.
  • Driving to and from Santiago a week or so ago, I didn’t see a single camino 'pilgrim', in sharp contrast with warmer times of the year, when there are dozens, if not hundreds to be observed. But I did see one hardy young man down in Valença last Thursday. 
  • Which reminds me . . . I had a large coffee near Valença. It cost 50 cents, against a minimum of €1.30 in Spain
  • That also reminds me . . . The 'Portuguese coastal camino' - which I think is the one which goes from Caminha in Portugal via La Guardia, Bayona and Vigo to Pontevedra and beyond - is reported to have seen an 88% increase in 'pilgrim' traffic last year. Which must have made some café and hotel owners very pleased.
The UK and Brexit
  • Richard North today gives his take on how - despite his best efforts - the UK has arrived at what one journalist has called "this insanely unnecessary shambles".
  • Another journalist - Janet Daley - makes the point I've stressed over the last couple of years, viz. that it's nonsense to suggest that Brexiteers are driven by some sort of dream of restoring the British empire. [Brexiteers] are not, she insists, benighted bigots or daft sentimentalists who refuse to let go of their fantasy version of the Second World War. Nor are they nostalgic for the great days of the British Empire. This calumny, she adds, is suddenly being repeated endlessly. Who on earth thought this up? Having spoken over the past 2 years to Leave supporters of pretty much every social class, every professional level and every political persuasion, from white van men to economics professors, I find this claim utterly asinine. Not a single person I have met – not a single, solitary one – has made any reference at all to Britain’s imperial past in accounting for their decision to vote Leave.
  • By coincidence, over the last week or so I've been reading Robert Tombs' monumental The English and their History. And the thought keeps cropping up that the Brussels technocrats have little idea of how Brits (well the English, anyway) view their history and their fight for some form of democracy, starting way back in the Anglo-Saxon period and passing through Runnymede, the 17th century civil war, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and and 18th, 19th and 20th century parliamentary reforms. My own view is that these 'ancient rights' play far larger part in the mentality of Brexiteers than dreams of a restored empire. (Of which, by the way, my 2 daughters of 37 and 42 know nothing at all). Hence an aversion to the new EU empire and the loss of what took so long to gain. Not that any of this can justify the state of madness which Johnson, Davis, Rees-Mogg et al have brought us to.
  • Most telling is the fact that all of these mendacious, ambitious imbeciles originally disfavoured the UK leaving the EU under a Hard Brexit. Quite the opposite; they all actually adamantly opposed it. See the article below.
  • I can't yet get this year's cartoon version of Fart's SOTU address but here's last year's . . . 
  • Meanwhile, here's something nice on this year's, with a bit for Spanish-speakers right at the end.
  • Odd Old Word: Beadsman. One who devotes himself entirely to prayer; one who undertakes to pray for another.
Finally . . .
  • I finally got my Apple ID sorted out. But now I'm not allowed to download updates to various software items because This app was downloaded by someone else using this ID. Presumably me on my old laptop. Very annoying. Especially as I can't get rid of the little red circle telling me these updates are available in the Apple store.. 
  • Talking of irritations . . .  I don't know what I've clicked but Hola magazine has this morning started to send me notifications of stunning banality. Grrrr. Today's IT challenge . . .

Brexiteers are rejecting exactly the kind of Brexit they used to want: Juliet Samuel

‘There is too little discussion,” said the MP, “on how we should engineer an orderly transition.” He added: “It took 40 years to progress to this stage of integration and we are not going to resolve all the issues in one stage.”

The MP in question, one Owen Paterson, was speaking in 2014, making him the first former Cabinet minister to advocate fully leaving the EU. An important factor in doing so successfully, he argued, was to leave gradually, following “a definitive plan” that would keep Britain inside the single market at least for a period, while ditching the EU’s project of political integration.

Now, though, Mr Paterson is one of the staunchest opponents of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement and a firm advocate of no deal. His journey is one shared by many Eurosceptics. Ever since Maastricht, MPs like Sir Bernard Jenkin, Sir Bill Cash and Iain Duncan Smith have been pushing for reforms that would keep many of the EU’s economic elements without the political bits. All of them now oppose Mrs May’s deal.

Another example, from 2014: “The primary aim is clear – to get as close as possible to the trading alliance, the common market we all voted for in 1975… My preference would be that we should remain within the customs union.” This was David Davis.

In that speech, Mr Davis laid out a renegotiation wish list. The UK should aim to take full control of immigration and home affairs policy, social and employment law and financial regulation. Such reforms, he said, would pare back EU membership to the common market he supported.

What’s striking about this is that there is, in fact, a deal on the table that not only delivers these things, but which actually goes further. It’s called the Irish backstop and it is precisely the part of Mrs May’s deal that all of Parliament’s hard-line Brexiteers now say they most hate.

It is hard to keep track of what exactly these Brexiteers hate. One week, they suggest the backstop be reopened and edited. Another week, they want “legally binding assurances”, which could consist of a supplementary legal note interpreting the backstop as temporary. The next week, they want to chuck the whole damn thing.

If the Brexiteers are wondering why they have so spectacularly failed to take control of the negotiations over the last two years, this ought to give us a clue. The problem is not, as Donald Tusk claimed this week, that they had no plan. They were flush with plans – pamphlets, articles, speeches, journals.

There’s “Flexcit”, a 400-page blueprint for leaving the EU over a 20-year period. There’s “Change or Go”, a 1,000 page dossier laying out every option under the sun. As I set out last week, there might even be a feasible strategy for a no-deal – not that any Brexiteer has coherently argued it. The problem is that the Brexiteers have so many plans and they change so often that they can’t unite consistently behind any of them.

Until recently, what nearly all of these plans had in common was that they rejected no deal as too risky and involved leaving the EU over an extended period, passing through a stage that looks very like the backstop.

The backstop, flawed though it is, delivers all of the following elements of Brexit: an end to EU budget payments, full control over immigration, total control over the services industries (including finance) that comprise 80 per cent of our economy, substantially increased control over all other industries, the right to reject any future EU employment, environmental or social legislation, control over farming and fisheries and an end to the jurisdiction of EU courts.

This is a faster, more ambitious vision of Brexit than Mr Davis, Mr Paterson or any of their peers were advocating a few years ago. And yet they are now screaming betrayal at the Prime Minister for suggesting it.

They do make some sound arguments about the backstop’s disadvantages. Taking up the regulatory freedoms it offers could trigger extra checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea into Northern Ireland. The principle is galling, but the practical effect is negligible. Such goods comprise less than 0.5 per cent of UK GDP.

Most annoyingly, the backstop keeps Britain inside the customs union (as Mr Davis formerly advocated). The truth, though, is that no international treaty can ultimately overrule a sovereign state and we are better off leaving when we are ready and led by a strong government.

As argued in 2000 by Bill Cash, the absence of an exit clause in a treaty cannot bind a sovereign state: “The right of secession must still lie with them,” he wrote back then. Indeed, had the UK not insisted on inserting Article 50 into the Lisbon Treaty, we would almost certainly have found an easier route to the exit.

Privately, many Brexiteers will tell you that they can see the advantages of the backstop. But they are being swept up in a tide of radicalism. They each have their eye on the throne, or a Cabinet seat at least, and no one wants to be the one arguing for compromise. Instead, they are each desperate to show the greatest purity of heart to drum up support from the base.

Yet this desire for a “pure” Brexit is exactly the strategy most likely to hand the initiative to Labour. This week, Jeremy Corbyn finally laid out his Brexit demands. They amount to something very like the single market/Norway model that Mr Davis, Mr Paterson, Dan Hannan and many Eurosceptics once endorsed.

But this plan inevitably requires a substantial delay and, if driven through with Labour votes, will come with dubious bells and whistles attached, like extra EU regulations and free movement. Why are Tories willing to risk letting Labour water down the deal?

There is no harm in pushing the Government to see how much it can get out of Brussels. Obtaining a legal clarification to the backstop would be a helpful way to mitigate its flaws and win over the DUP. So it’s reasonable for MPs to support amendments that stiffen the Government’s backbone.

But when it comes down to the final vote, Brexiteers are losing sight of the bigger picture. For decades, they have been gathering in back rooms to mull over blueprints, taking pride in their marginalisation, fiddling about with debating points and pamphlets.

If the backstop had been authored by the Bruges Group, these Tories would be falling over themselves to endorse it. Instead, they seem determined to prove Mr Tusk right and, at the moment of victory, let the prize slip through their fingers.

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