Sunday, 11 June 2017

National Alliance for Brexit

If Theresa May persists with an exclusive deal with the DUP and continues to keep other party leaders in the dark about her approach to Brexit, then she has clearly learnt nothing from her failed attempt to win a large majority in Parliament. She has been rightly criticised for making vital strategic and tactical decisions within a small, closed circle. The result is there for all to see. She shuts out others who are then unable to point out her errors, and when things go wrong, she is left floundering and isolated.

And when it comes to Brexit, it is not just about the ramifications for one political party, but the serious effects on the whole country. Brexit is inextricably linked with British people’s concerns with getting jobs with decent pay, ending austerity, and having a fair and sustainable economy. If the Brexit plans adopted actually make things worse on all these critical issues, they would spell disaster for the country. To get it right, a different approach is urgently needed.


It is time political leaders accept that the Brexit challenge calls for a national alliance. Just as leaders from different parties came together to steer the UK through the First and Second World Wars, a cross-party approach for Brexit is essential. May, flanked by a DUP supporter, waving a document that is supposed to give us ‘Brexit for our time’ will not do.

At this juncture, we need a shared strategy to deal with the challenges posed by Brexit. The 2017 election results tell us that the people are not willing to give the mandate to any single party to reach an agreement with the EU.


The National Alliance for Brexit should comprise the Prime Minister (Conservative), Leader of the Opposition (Labour), and the Commons leaders for the SNP, Liberal Democrats, DUP, Plaid Cymru, and the Greens, plus the First Minister of Scotland (SNP), First Minister of Wales (Labour), and (given power sharing) both the First Minister (DUP) and Deputy First Minister (Sinn Fein) of Northern Ireland. When the group meets, both the Brexit and shadow Brexit Ministers should also be in attendance.

The emphasis will be on consensus building, and decisions will not be taken on a majority vote basis. If no agreement can be reached, the Prime Minister can decide if an issue is to be parked for a revisit later, or take the decision after others have expressed their views. Members of the alliance will meet to discuss what they should prioritise, what concessions may be considered, and what suggestions or reservations they may have about on-going tactics and long term strategies. They will decide on the frequency of their meetings and how the agenda for each meeting will be shaped. All discussions will be confidential to those present, and can only be shared with specific personnel on the unanimous agreement of the whole group.


The alliance can be convened through an invitation from the Prime Minister; or if the invitation is not forthcoming, the Leader of the Opposition can request the Prime Minister to initiate the process. Once it has been set up, the group should operate on a collaborative basis. The Prime Minister must not regard the others as merely being present to get updates and provide the appearance of unity. The others for their part must recognise that they are not there to put numerical pressure on the Prime Minister but to help inform discussions with wider perspectives, advise on pitfalls to avoid, and point out opportunities that may otherwise be missed.

In negotiation with the EU, the Prime Minister and the Brexit Minister, knowing where they stand with the other political leaders of the UK, will be able to speak confidently and authoritatively. With the UK Parliament, instead of adopting a ‘take it or leave it’ confrontational approach, they can assure MPs and members of the Lords that while they cannot share with them the evolving details, a consensus approach for the interests of the whole country, and not just a single party, is guiding how the deal is to be reached.

Once the Brexit deal is concluded with the EU, the alliance can ensure that, rather than being shocked by the revealed deal or getting bogged down by political point-scoring about what should have been done differently, all parties can rally behind the deal and work with the British people so that it can be implemented as effectively as possible for the sake of our United Kingdom.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Gambling with the UK’s Future

To lose one gamble may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness; but to lose three is surely utter incompetence.

In June 2016, the Tory Prime Minister, David Cameron, declared that the best thing for UK’s prosperity and stability would be for the UK to remain in the European Union. He had a mandate to run the country and that was his considered judgement. But instead of running the country accordingly, he opted to tackle the party political threat from UKIP by arranging for a referendum on the UK’s EU membership. He thought a victory would minimise future challenges to Conservative seats from UKIP candidates. By his own admission, he was convinced that withdrawing from the EU would be bad for the UK and cause serious uncertainty. But for the sake of securing party political advantage, he gambled with holding the referendum anyway, with no contingency plan, and he lost.

Cameron resigned, and was succeeded by Theresa May, who thought that the best way to endear herself to the ardently pro-Brexit xenophobic press would be to rush ahead by triggering Article 50. She had no plan for what agreement to seek or how to obtain it. But in March 2017, she went ahead anyway, knowing that once Article 50 was triggered, the UK would be out of the EU in two years’ time, and if no deal had been reached with the EU by then, the UK could be in serious trouble in terms of the negative impact on trade, security and scientific cooperation. The clock started ticking, uncertainty began to mount. May’s bet was that her pushing Article 50 would rally the country behind her as the trusted negotiator. As it was, it caused such alarm that more and more people became intensely concerned with her approach to Brexit.

So a year on from the EU referendum, Theresa May decided to double down and call a snap election. She had inherited a slim majority from Cameron, and thought she could win a landslide with the Conservatives far ahead of Labour in the opinion polls. Like Cameron, she did not for a moment think that the country’s stability should come before her party political gains. With an atrocious campaign, during which the self-styled tough talker refused to engage in public debates, May’s gamble fell flat. Instead of winning a much bigger majority, she ended up with no majority at all. Like an annual ritual, a Tory Prime Minister had once again sunk sterling and pushed the country into deep uncertainties and economic instability.

The Brexit process is still counting down. The country is more divided than ever as to what deal we should strike with the EU. But it is hard not to agree that the worst possible deal for Britons would be to leave our fate in the hands of clueless gamblers.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Rules-Freedom Symbiosis

For too long the rant against rules as barriers to ‘Freedom’ has gone unchallenged. Playing on people’s instinctive yearning to be free from restrictions, charlatans have manipulated public opinion and turned it against rule-setting in any arena that might have obstructed the pursuit of their own vested interests.

We hear of the ‘free’ market being held back by business legislation; the ‘freedom’ of the press being threatened by proposed regulation; or our country’s ‘liberty’ being constrained by rules imposed by the European Union.

But imagine a world without rules – people can cheat, rob, maim you and your family without any penalty. You have no safety, no prospect of building on anything because the unscrupulous can come along any time and wreck your life.

To be free to live a life without constant fear, we need rules to protect us. And to make sure those rules are appropriate, we need to be the ones in control of how those rules are set. Rules are not the enemy of freedom. The eradication of rules so the callous can trample on the rest, or the imposition of unfair rules that ignores our concerns, they are the nemesis of our liberty.

If we are to enable the Rules-Freedom symbiosis to flourish, we must be better aware of what kind of activities may affect us, what rules are necessary to safeguard our wellbeing from infringement by others, and above all, how we can have a reasonable say in the formulation and enforcement of those rules.

Activities by business organisations and other European countries are two major types of activity that can substantially impact on our lives. Even self-styled libertarians would concede that having no rules to govern these activities would open us up to deception, exploitation, and even enslavement by ruthless transgressors [Note 1]. Not surprisingly, there are rules put in place to deal with them. Unfortunately, many of these rules are being altered by plutocratic politicians doing the bidding of irresponsible corporations, or removed altogether at the expense of ordinary citizens. Worse still, those of us in the UK are being pulled out of the EU where cross-border rules are set. There will still be countless trade, scientific, and security activities that affect the UK and the rest of Europe alike, but the UK will no longer have any representation at the table where the rules governing these activities are drawn up.

Getting rid of rules, or giving up the opportunity to shape them, is not the way to secure freedom. Often such a move will only lead us to greater vulnerabilities, and we become much less free as a result of others not being constrained anymore from depleting our options in life. If we truly want to be free, we had better start engaging fully in the vital process of rule-setting at the national, European, and indeed global level.

Note 1: Human trafficking and modern slavery are real problems that are still not sufficiently prioritised for government counter-action.