Options for Phase II of England’s Crisis

Jeff Bezos of Amazon has a great line about basing your strategy on things that won’t change, like customers wanting lower prices, more choice and faster delivery.

Let’s try it on Brexit.

The EU’s economy remains much larger than the UK’s. The structural power in trade relations comes from relative size, and all the UK’s cards are 2s, 3s with the odd 7 – the Europeans hold face cards.

The structure and timing of the talks, the settling of the bills, the rights of EU citizens and the Irish border all went the EU’s way – ‘nothing is agreed until everything is conceded’.

In Phase II there will be a great regrouping of illusions. The Brexiteers are consoling themselves that we are moving towards sensible regulatory alignment. In this world the UK plans its regulatory regime, the 27 plan theirs and there is a meeting of equals and some give and take.

Reality remains they will give us rules and we will take them – aces beat 5’s.

Regulatory alignment means we will align to their regulations. The ‘no hard border’ fallback of Phase I hangs like a sword of Damocles over the fantasy Brest-Litovsk neither-border-nor-no-border proposals for Northern Ireland.

Phase II is a series of choices between another concession and no deal. It has a certain hypnotic alcoholic charm: “just one more?”

The new great constant of what-is-to-come is legislative congestion: 12,000 pieces of acquis communitaire – and not time enough for parliament to remold them.

You could make more time by introducing electronic voting. The Orders In Council currently gets up to 90 minutes of debate – followed by a 20 minute vote – instead of the 30 seconds at Holyrood.

Parliament has two houses – the other chamber could be used differently and creatively – doubling the number of eyes on the work. The MEPs could be reconstituted domestically could have their place to play.

You could extend the transition.

You could clear the Commons of English domestic business by devolving health and social security to elected regional bodies – England has regional governmental infrastructure already.

But there is this constant – a morbid fear of constitutional conversation.

The pretense that there is no problem that cannot be addressed by constant and whirling reform outwith Westminster and zen-like calm in her hallowed halls.

The inherited patronage of the House of Lords was ‘reformed’ into expiry-on-death – it merely trebled the rate of patronage. The Lords remains prized for its ‘experience’ and neutered by its illegitimacy.

After the 2014 Indyref the no-change-change of English Votes For English Laws (EVEL) substituted a small technical procedural adjustment for thought about what the Union meant in light of its near death experience.

We see the same with Brexit. The first thoughts for Northern Ireland in 1972 was a combined military-political leadership like Aden, Malaya or Kenya: a General as Governor General.

Reason prevailed and we got Direct Rule by Minister of the Crown using Orders In Council, temporarily of course, but somehow still in place 46 years later.

The Brexit bill hands out decree powers to all Crown Ministers with very little constraint.

A cabinet which has not discussed and agreed a Brexit is supposed to will consensus and a working approach by departmental decree.

Orders In Council are not the ‘solution’ to lack of parliamentary time but the very symptom of it – a recourse to a constitutional device and institutions that hail not from Henry VIII but are much older, crossing the channel in 1066.

All eyes are currently on abroad, but it is the looming crisis in English domestic politics that matters most.

Politicians mostly choose between options. Options framed and presented by the civil service, by consultation and procedures – they choose what is expedient, what they most desire, what they can get away with from a menu.

Brexit frames that menu – the all pervasive lack of parliamentary time structures all choices for English domestic legislation (us pernickity Celts with our pretendy-Parlies will have proper bills, scrutiny and functioning domestic politics).

We have hints of the future. In the Brexit referendum a large donation for advertising in English newspapers was routed through the DUP to take advantage of anonymity offered to political donors in NI – as a measure of protection against extortion.

This anonymity was intended to expire and, with Stormont suspended, it fell to the Westminster government to make that take effect. Given the choice between putting the necessary regulation in front of the whole House or pushing it down the Order In Council route – the less embarrassing way was taken.

Only sharp action by the SNP at the Delegated Legislation Committee surfaced it – but a committee of 15 where the Government has an automatic majority is easier ‘fixed’.

English politics for the foreseeable future will look like this. Parliamentary time will be as rare as hens teeth, politics will intrude, the pressure of events, the lack of slots in the timetable and the broad powers of Orders-In-Council in arms reach, usable on all and any ever kissed by the EU. The nationalist crisis of institutions that is Brexit remains the English crisis.

Comments (14)

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  1. Crubag says:

    “England has regional governmental infrastructure already”

    No, there is no regional level of governance. The civil service does have a regional map of England, but the attempt to create a democratic layer to oversee this failed, with the referendum in North East England.

    The English local government situation in Scotland is more complicated than in Scotland, with multiple layers. In a way, the Conservative government reducing Scottish local government to a single layer effectively paved the way for the Scottish Parliament.

  2. Chris Clark says:

    To modify a famous Daily Telegraph headline of yesteryear “Fog in the Cabinet, Europe cut off”. The solution is clearly Self Determination for Scotland.

  3. Bert Logan says:

    Depressing, illuminating.

  4. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Gordon Guthrie should reflect on what he preaches.
    “Jeff Bezos of Amazon has a great line about basing your strategy on things that won’t change, …………………… Let’s try it on Brexit”.
    The result of last years UK/EU referendum was 51% Leave, 49% Remain. Brexit is going to happen. Base your your startegy on that Gordon.

    1. Jamsie says:

      Exactly!
      Scotland remains part of the UK.
      The UK leaves the EU.
      Democracy working!
      The world goes on!

      1. Stewart Cameron says:

        So Scotland must follow the mad man (uk) over the cliff because the mad man said so?

        Do you always do what others tell you to do, even when you disagree with them?

        Do you not challenge what you believe to be wrong, seemingly not, you take your steer from others (the mad man).

        If the mad man says jump, I assume you say how high?

        If the mad man says we are not going to be friends with our neighbours we are going to be friends with the other mad man over the Atlantic, yoou nod in agreement.

        Would you follow the mad man to the ends of the earth – it looks that way.

        We’ll see how keen you are on democracy when indy ref 2 comes to town, knowing already what the answer will be.

        No surrender and ignoring changing circumstances don’t get you very far!

  5. joe Gibson says:

    Let them stew in their own juices.

  6. Redguantlet says:

    For England may keep faith /
    For all that is done and said /
    We know their Brexit is lunacy /
    A madman’s dream which will leave us half dead /
    And what if an excess of chauvinism and national pride /
    Bewildered them until they died? /
    I write it out in verse /
    Johnson and Michael Gove /
    Theresa May and David Davis and the Brexit Committeeee /
    Are changed, changed utterly /
    A terrible stupidity is born…

  7. Fisles says:

    the whole brexit thing is utterly stupid. We in Scotland do not want to leave, we did not vote to leave but Westmonster takes no notice whatsoever. In fact, in all the talk about Brexit I have not heard Scotland mentioned — Yes I know, Scotland does not count!! It makes my blood boil!
    We have to get away from the Uk so that we can do what is right for our country.

    1. Terri Mac says:

      Scotland is a country of great pride. They fought to keep their land and identity over the centuries. Take the Clearances as an example. The English ravished the people and the land then left them for dead, just as there are doing now. Where is William Wallace now? We need him to rise up and lead again to rebuild a great heritage. A great nation, a great proud and big hearted people.

  8. SleepingDog says:

    Well, I guess we know by now why the symbol of the UK Parliament is a portcullis: it’s a device for blocking, after raising the drawbridge and hiding behind a moat.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parliament_of_the_United_Kingdom#Emblem

  9. w.b.robertson says:

    so do all the Scottish remainers still campaign for independence within EU? ridding ourselves of Westminster to substitute rule from Brussels? There has been all quiet on that front recently. Have you lost your voice? Or waiting to see what happens to Catalonia?

    1. Jack Collatin says:

      What a tired old argument, WB.
      Brussels isn’t killing tens of thousands of Scots each year; Ruth Davidson, Willie Rennie, and that Grey Faced Shop Steward Red Tory leader of the Branch Office which he is about to rebrand North British Labour, and their Give the Rich more Riches ,starve the Hoi Polloi and the Poor to pay for it policies ,are.
      Brussels does not ‘rule’ Engwaland.
      Otherwise we would have pensions that are far more generous than the pittance WM doles out, disabled citizens would have vehicles restored to them, our railways would be state owned and run effectively and efficiently, and we Scots would not be chucking in £10 billion towards HS2 so that the English Home County set could get from Birmingham to London ten minutes earlier, to name but a few London Rules farces imposed upon us by Davidson Rennie and Wotsis Face.
      We shall be independent with an equal voice with our fellow 27 countries in a United Europe, while England peddles Kendal Mint to the Brazilians.

    2. Chris Clark says:

      Well said, Jack. We, the Remainers, are waiting mostly quietly, while the WM mob steer the UK towards economic oblivion. We are biding our time until the greatest number of voting Scots possible has reach the realisation that the UK is heading for the status of a Satellite State of Trump’s USA. Many of us voted to stay in the UK as it seemed the surest way of staying in the EU. I eagerly await the chance to redress the fault in a repeat of the Independence Referendum which, I’m increasingly sure, will be successful next time. WB, we will not be tricked a second time. Our desire is for an Independent, Self-determining Scotland which is able to choose whether it wants to be a full Member of the EU, or an equal Partner of a British Union in a fair re-alignment of the Constitution. It’s about equality and partnership, not rule by an Autocratic, undemocratic Master State. I’m sure that the Scottish electorate, which voted 62% to 38% to Remain a Member of the EU, can show the mature and considered way forward to the British people in much the same way as it does on many subjects. Roll on Independence for Scotland.

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