Richard North, 17/06/2019  
 


Sajid Javid is the working class son of a bus driver who has made it to home secretary but, if he ever had the common touch, he's lost a lot of it on his way. That much was painfully evident from an account of the Channel 4 leadership debate, where the Guardian's Rowena Mason signs off on the "winners and losers".

The "best line" from Javid, she says, came when there arose the question of proroguing parliament in order to stop it, supposedly, blocking a no-deal. He suggested that only a "dictator" would want to prorogue parliament. "You don't deliver democracy by trashing democracy", he said, "We are not selecting a dictator of our democracy. We are selecting a prime minister of our democracy".

The irony quite obviously escapes Javid – that far has he departed from his roots. He is embroiled in an exercise which is the very antithesis of democracy. He even uses the word "selection" for this process, whereby a small number of people decide who is to lead our government and where the people at large don't have a say in the matter.

Here we have a man who thinks that denying parliament a role in the Brexit process would be "trashing democracy" but he's at ease with imposing a prime minister on the nation and denying the electorate any part in the process.

And that's my last comment on the "debate". I didn't actually watch it, taking the feed from the Guardian. Having to look at five Tory politicians for that long is more than should be asked of any human. Compulsory viewing constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

Meanwhile, we can be entertained by a report which puts Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson on the back foot when it comes to the payment of the £39 billion "divorce bill".

Existing government legal advice, it would appear, is that linking the bill with payments to the progress of any trade talks – Johnson's latest "cunning plan" - would be illegal.

Johnson has said that the EU needed to understand "that the money is going to be retained until such time as we have greater clarity about the way forward". Yet, directly from attorney-general Geoffrey Cox comes the warning that, even in a no-deal scenario, the government would have an obligation to pay some funds to the EU, although the precise extent of those obligations could be disputed, but it would run into "billions".

Already French president Emmanuel Macron has reacted adversely to this "plan", arguing that refusing to pay would be the equivalent of defaulting on sovereign debt and risk the UK facing a credit rating downgrade.

That has since been denied by a number of rating agencies although it is acknowledged that failure to make payments could still have "serious implications".

Of greater effect would be the loss of the transition period concomitant with a no-deal scenario. That in itself could possibly drop us by two notches from our current double-A status.

Furthermore, it is anticipated that the EU would not be prepared to entertain discussions on the future relationship with the UK unless London commits to making good on its obligations. Lawyers also warn that it could end up in a damaging clash in the international courts.

Despite all this, it transpires that, in November 2018, the idiot Dominic Raab, then acting as Brexit secretary, argued that a clause should be inserted into the Withdrawal Agreement Bill linking the payment of the £39 billion bill to a successful outcome of trade talks.

It seems to have been at that time – according to "informed sources" – that Mr Cox rejected the idea as illegal since it offended the basic principle that ministers must act within the rule of law, especially as the UK has long conceded it will have some debts to pay to the EU.

It seems that the attorney-general is relying on Article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the law of treaties, which stipulates that signatories to international treaties must not "defeat the object and purpose of a treaty prior to its entry into force".

The Telegraph argues that this legal advice - which has not been published - threatens to open up a rift between Cox and Johnson if the latter enters Downing Street and tries to make good on his promise on withholding the payments – another of those ironic developments, given that Cox has backed Johnson for the premiership.

For all that, and even though Muppets such as Jeremy Hunt are arguing for a renegotiation, it seems that the "colleagues" are not even paying attention. Later this week, they are holding the final European Council before the summer break and Brexit is not even on the agenda.

The main concerns of the Member State leaders are the nominations for the EU institutions, including the president of the European Commission, and the multiannual financial framework, where the budget for 2021-2027 will be discussed. Climate change is also high on the agenda.

After the main Council, there is to be a separate Euro Summit where the leaders will discuss the deepening of the Economic and Monetary Union. And I presume they know what they will be talking about when they discuss "the design, modalities of implementation and timing of a budgetary instrument for convergence and competitiveness for the euro-area".

As well as progress on the strengthening of the banking union, treaty change is on this particular agenda, with the "colleagues" looking at changes to the treaty establishing the European Stability Mechanism. This points to the EU looking forward to life without the UK. If there are to be any talks on Brexit, they will be on the margins, with no formal conclusions published.

This may mark a switch which Wolfgang Münchau thinks he detects. European leaders, he writes, have hitherto been divided between those who want the UK to reverse Brexit and those who want the UK to get on with it. But now he's suggesting that the tide is turning towards the latter.

He also argues that a three-way choice, between deal, no-deal and no Brexit, is too complicated for a political system to cope with. Thus, he wants the EU to help reduce the spread to a binary choice, as between deal and no-deal. This they could do by ruling out the prospect of another Article 50 extension.

But this is from a man who is willing to give Mrs May's Withdrawal Agreement a chance of posthumous success, even though there does not seem to be much chance of parliament accepting it.

Then, as far as it goes, there is very little expectation that parliament will deliver anything. A survey by BritainThinks tells us that Britain is a more polarised and pessimistic nation than it has been for decades, a country torn apart by social class, geography and Brexit.

In focus groups hosted in London and Leicester to gauge the national mood, "worried" and "uncertain" were the most repeated keywords used by respondents to describe how they felt about the future – something that could have been picked up just from reading this blog.

The last word, though, must go to one Remain voter from Leicester, who now believes that the only way to uphold any sense of national pride would be to leave the EU. "The people we elected think we're too stupid to understand what’s going on, there's condescension and no respect for us", he said. "The British took democracy to other countries, but we can't even abide by it or believe in it ourselves".

And there is another sign of that disconnect. Across the board, it's beginning to look pretty total.






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