The politics of notification

This week in Birmingham, Theresa May’s speech to the Tory party faithful brought to an end a rather dull summer of political posturing and procrastination about Brexit. 3 months on from Britain’s independence day referendum, voters might still not know the finer detail, but they do now know the direction of travel the Prime Minister wants to take the country as well as when the journey will begin. This blog post takes a closer look at the Prime Minister’s Birmgham speech.

The Prime Minister has pledged to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017. Delaying the formal start of the negotiations gives the Government time to settle on its negotiating strategy and to assemble a team of negotiators competent to deliver the strategy. No 10 has judged that further delay risks unnecessarily antagonising the cohort of Brexiters within her own party and opening the door to a UKIP revival. That she felt moved to make this speech at the start of the Tory Party Conference shows just how aware she is of the need to be seen to be making the running on

The timing is not without its risks.

A decision to trigger Article 50 in March could see Britain’s efforts to exit the EU buffeted by elections in Germany and France. In both cases the incumbent party is facing pressure from right-wing protest parties that are seeking to capitalise on anti-EU and anti-migrant sentiment. Even if Brexit does not become an electoral football in France or Germany, the attention of political elites in both countries will be firmly fixed on domestic concerns from the spring of next year onwards. In the case of Germany, this could last well after the election as the politics of forming a new government amongst an assortment of possible coalition partners is often a painfully drawn out affair and can take several weeks.

The implication of a March 2017 notification is that Britain should in theory at least formally leave the EU by March 2019. Article 50 makes clear the EU Treaties will cease to apply from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or failing that two years after the notification. The only exception to this rule is, if in the absence of a withdrawal agreement, the European Council, in agreement with all other member states concerned, unanimously decides to extend this time frame. Securing unanimity across the other 27 member states to extend the Article 50 negotiations could be as tortuous a process as negotiating Brexit itself.

The Prime Minister used her speech in Birimgham to reject the portrayal of Brexit in hard or soft terms involving either a Norwegian or Swiss model. Instead, she argued for a uniquely British model of Brexit that allows Britain to become once again a fully independent sovereign country free to make its own laws and free to decide for itself how it controls immigration. In words that might yet come back to haunt her, she said “…. let me be clear.  We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again. And we are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.”

What she wants instead is a mature and cooperative relationship on a range of issues like counter-terrorism, but which also gives British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the Single Market – and let European businesses do the same here. Make no mistake, however, this option, which is very much at the hard ened of Brexit, places Britain firmly outside the single market and the customs union. Unless Britain adopts a unilateral free trade policy, which is unlikely, Britain will need to secure a free trade agreement with the EU. If the announcements coming out of Birmingham are to be believed securing this free trade agreement is going to be a straight forward process.

Is this self-confidence misplaced?

The EU has a political incentive to ensure that Britain’s decision to leave the EU is punished in a way that it deters other countries from contemplating a similar strategy. As Francois Hollande made clear only yesterday, Britain must pay a heavy price for deciding to leave the EU. Why would the EU allow its own founding principles to be eroded in such a way that it threatens the political survival of a political project 60-years in the making? Ever since Britain voted to leave the EU, the other member states have made it consistently clear that they are not willing to sacrifice their political goals even if that means they incur some economic damage.

The economic damage the EU will sustain as a result of this polutical clear is likely to be smaller and more manageable than that borne by the British. The EU exports about 3% of its GDP to Britain, while Britain exports to the EU amounts to 12.5% of GDP. Many EU countries understandably see the prospects of Britain’s exit as an opportunity to grab Britain’s lost market share. Both Paris and Frankfurt are already jockeying for postion  to attract business from the City.

The other fly in the ointment is that any free trade deal that Britain might negotiate will require unanimity across all EU member states, including in some cases approval by referendum, as well as the approval of the European Parliament. Liam Fox’s ambitions to see Britain becoming the champion of free trade globally plays well with the party faithful in Birmingham, but an EU without Britain is going to be more protectionist than it was when Britain was a member. It is highly unlikley that Britain will be able to negotiate its diovorce settlement while also negotaing its fture relationship with the EU.

The Prime Minister helpfully clarified that the Government will introduce a Great Repeal Bill in the next Queen’s Speech to ensure that the day after Brexit current EU directives are incorporated into UK law while they assess which ones to keep and which ones to ditch.This is a sensible bridging tactic, but what was missing from her speech, however, was any acknowledgement of the need for a transitional or bridging arrangements between Britain’s formal exit and it agreeing a new trade deal with the EU to ensure the UK does not lose all preferential access to EU markets upon leaving. From Marh 2019 when Britian formally leaves the EU until such time as Britain concludes a trade deal British companies will face tariffs on manufactured goods and the loss of “passporting” rights that allow financial services firms based in the City to do business across the bloc. This could prove costly.

Given the inevitable uncertainties that Britain is likely to face in the months and years ahead, it is striking that Theresa May decided to give away what little political leverage she has in the Brexit negotiations – announcing when she will start the formal negotiations – without securing some assurances from the EU on transitional arrangements following Britain’s formal divorce from the EU.

There is little doubt that Theresa May is a serious politician, but the timing of this speech at the beginning of the Conservative Party Conference and her freebie on Article 50 suggests that, as with her reckless predecessor, her primary focus when it comes to Europe is appeasing those in her own party rather than necessarily negotiating a sensible deal for the country as a whole. If Britain is to thrive and flourish outside of the EU then the PM needs to arrive at a negotiating strategy that seeks to secure the national interest rather than merely cement her own standing within the Conservative Party.

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Saving the Union

One month on from Britain’s referendum decision to leave the EU, political attention has turned to the question of whether it is possible for Britain to leave the EU while at the same time persevering its own Union.

This political dilemma is a consequences of the June 23 Referendum which although returning a 52% vote in support of Britain leaving the EU hid significant regional variations. Northern Ireland voted by 56% for the UK to stay in the EU, while in Scotland 62% voted remain. Compare this with the 52% in Wales and the 53% in England that voted Leave.

The Prime Minister Theresa May welcomes Enda Kenny,Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland to 10 Downing Street.

The Prime Minister Theresa May welcomes Taoiseach Enda Kenny of the Republic of Ireland to 10 Downing Street on Tuesday

If the referendum decision was in part a protest vote against the political establishment and Westminster style politics then how does the government ensure that the process of negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU doesn’t reinforce the sense of alienation from those parts of the United Kingdom that voted remain? Will a negotiating strategy that only satisfies the disparate voices of those that voted leave fuel the flames of Scottish independence and Irish (re-)unification?

These questions have been drawn into focus this week with Theresa May’s first visit as PM to Northern Ireland where she met on Monday with Arlene Foster, the Brexit-backing first Minister, and Martin McGuiness, the Remain-supporting Deputy First Minister. Following talks at Stormont, Martin McGuinness said, “On the issue of Brexit, I speak for the people of the North. And the people of the North who are unionist, nationalist republican have made it very clear that they see their future in Europe.”

These concerns were reinforced the subsequent day when Theresa May and the Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny met in London to discuss how Brexit might impact Anglo-Irish relations. Speaking ahead of the meeting Theresa May said that when the UK leaves the EU “of course Northern Ireland will have a border with the Republic of Ireland.” However, she added, “Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past.” Irish government sources accepted that some changes to the current ‘invisible’ border may have to occur, but have insisted that a ‘hard’ border was ‘not an option’.

Not to be left out of proceedings, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, used a speech to the IPPR in Edinburgh on Monday to set out interests that she would seek to protect in talks on the UK’s government’s position on Brexit before any triggering of Article 50. These included the need to make sure that Scotland’s voice is heard and its wishes respected; free movement of labor and access to the single market; protection of workers’ and wider human rights; the ability to work with other nations to tackle issues such as climate change and terrorism; and having a say in the rules of the single market.

All of this darws into focus what Brexit means.We all now know that Brexit means Brexit but we have no idea what Brexit actually means. How might Theresa May reconcile the competing demands for a soft and hard Brexit? Is it possible for her to satisfy the Brexit head-bangers within her own party while also meeting the demands from Scotland and Northern Ireland?

One option would be to press for a sub-optimum solution that forces all domestic stakeholders to compromise. This would involve adopting the ready-made Norwegian model with or without an emergency brake on the free movement of people. Theresa May could then claim that the government had honoured the referendum decision. This would take the sting out of the Brexit tail even if the more ideologically motivated Brexiteers complained that this amounted to honouring the letter and not the spirit of the referendum. Britain would after all still be subservient to a failing Brussels machinery. However, this option would provide for soft borders between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and would meet some, but not all of the interests laid out by Nicola Sturgeon. Britain would still be obliged to abide by the rules of the single market but have no say in shaping them.

It is difficult to know whether this arrangement would provide a long-term sustainable response to Brexit or merely a transitional staging area towards a more distant but permanent unravelling of both the UK’s relationship with the EU and in turn the UK’s own Union. Much would depend here on a range of contingent factors like changing the national narrative on Europe and on immigration.


Nicola Sturgeon seaking at Monday’s conference of the Institute for Public Policy Research in Edinburgh

An alternative solution is one that Nicola Sturgeon hinted at in her speech on Monday when she talked about developing a multi-nation solution to Brexit which catered for the differing needs across the United Kingdom.

The challenge of finding such a differentiated solution would be formidable. Even if a variable solution can be agreed amongst the 4 nations, Britain would face the difficult task of persuading the EU to agree to this model. Even if the EU was open in principle to a variable Brexit the process of negotiating a final agreement that satisfied all parties would be challenging to say the least involving as it would multi-level negotiations and trade-offs both within the UK and between the UK and the EU.

The Scottish First Minister didn’t go into detail but her proposal echoes the recommendations made earlier this month by the Constitution Reform Group, an independent all-party group of experts. Convened by the former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Salisbury, the group made the case for the governance of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to be reinvented within a new voluntary union in a bid to save the UK from disintegration.

Whatever the relative merits of their specific proposals it is clear that Britain’s referendum decision requires us to rethink both how we relate to the EU and what it means to be the United Kingdom. Fiercely defending the status quo at home at a time of wider constitutional change in our relationship with the EU is likely to be the worst of all options and one most likely to hasten the breakup of the United Kingdom.

If would be good to hear your thoughts on whether Britain should settle for a soft Brexit in order to keep the UK together? If you are Brexiteer, is that a price worth paying? If not how do you think the UK should exit the EU while safeguarding the territorial integrity of the UK?

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Brexit Summer Reads

Now that summer has finally arrived here are a few reads that you might want to smuggle away in your case to balance your more typical holiday reads.

First up is a speech given by Theresa May in defence of remaining in the EU that she gave during the EU referendum campaign. The PM has since made clear that Brexit means Brexit, but her April 25 speech gives a helpful insight both into how she approaches big political decisions and also her understanding of key concerns that are going to be recurring features during the Brexit negotiations.  The speech shows her to be a pragmatic multilateralist who recognises that in some instances the pooling of sovereignty is necessary to protect and promote the national interest.

Next up is a 2,000 word article by David Davis on the Conservative Home website setting out his views on how the Brexit negotiation should proceed. The article was posted last Monday before Theresa May was confirmed as PM and before he was appointed as the Cabinet Minister responsible for spearheading the Brexit negotiations. It’s worth a read not least because government officials across the Europe will no doubt be poring over the piece.

Davis suggests holding of triggering formal negotiations until the end of 2018 and using the next 18 months to negotiate key trade deals with Britain’s non-EU partners. His preferred option is continued tariff-free access to Europe’s single market, but suggests that if the EU is irrational during the negotiations then the UK should accept restrictions on free movement and shift to World Trade Organisation rules and levies, including 10 per cent levies on car exports.

You can make your own mind up on whether this blueprint represents a credible strategy and we will have to wait and see whether it survives the scrutiny of Whitehall mandarins but the article does provide a useful insight into David Davis own views on how the UK should exit the EU.

The third piece of holiday reading is a detailed analysis of the state of the UK economy from the Centre of European Reform written by Christian Odendahl and John Springford. This is not for the faint of heart as it calmly dismantles the optimistic outlook of the Leavers and explains why the UK may be heading for recession.

It’s the type of piece that if read when holidaying abroad might encourage you to stay. The analysis appears confirmed by the latest IMF World Economic Outlook published this week which downgrades its economic growth forecasts for the UK.

Odendahl and Springford remind us that the Brexit negotiations won’t take place in a vacuum but against a backdrop of economic and political uncertainty and wider financial stress. It draws into question whether Theresea May will be able to deliver on the ambitious social agenda that she set out from the footstep of No 10 last week.. ‘One Nation’ government costs and sadly Britain’s coffers remain empty.

To complement this reading I also recommend downloading on to your Ipod the BBC Radio 4 Point of View: After the Vote series which consists of a series of thoughtful reflections from leading thinkers including Onora O’Neil, Roger Scruton, Peter Hennessey , Mary Beard and John Gray.

You can take your pick but I found Peter Hennessey’s contribution particularly helpful especially his suggestion that in the wake of Brexit we need two Royal Commissions: one to explore the question of Britain’s role and the other to look at who we are as country and how we should relate to one another. Britain might have an entered an age of uncertainty but such uncertainty, where worlds are in flux, can be particularly creative time and can lead to a renewal of the body politic.

The final recommendation for summer reading is a short report published this week by Policy Exchange a center right think tank based in London.  Authored by Professor John Bew of Kings College London the reports warns that Brexit cannot be allowed to become the latest instalment of a narrative of decline in Britain’s influence on the world stage that has been building up in recent years.

Bew says that the government must ignore the ‘siren calls’ that Brexit equals isolationism and swiftly and decisively reset the UK’s relations with key allies, especially the United States, Germany and a number of other EU member states, particularly those in the East. The report holds it is critical to reassure those key allies that Britain will not look through a short-term, narrow lens and adopt a ‘neo-Elizabethan’ age approach to foreign policy by simply favouring bilateral relations with emerging markets.

In the short-term, it recommends the UK reasserting its commitment to NATO by signalling an intent to raise defence spending above the 2% GDP target, appointing 20 more trade negotiators to work with the new International Trade Secretary, bringing forward the scheduled 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to autumn 2017 and to seek a special summit with the next President of the United States.

Let me know what’s top of your post-Brexit summer reads.

Happy reading!

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The shape of things to come

Britain’s political establishment is slowly recovering from the aftershock of the June 23 referendum decision to leave the European Union. In the space of a few weeks the country has a new Prime Minister and a government that is radically different to that which went before. Much still remains uncertain, not least a vision for Britain’s new relationship with Europe, but the changes to date do give an insight into the shape of things to come.theresa-may-no-10

The Prime Minister entered Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon promising to address directly the country’s deep divisions and to respond to the needs of struggling working class families. Some commentators have described this as akin to parking the Conservative bus on Labour’s lawn and as an intentional move to capitalise on the internal turmoil that continues to rip Labour apart. If the Conservative Party is to win big as Theresa May has signalled then the Tories will need to occupy more broadly the centre ground and appeal to those on the disillusioned centre left.

Yet, her promises were so much more than a blunt electoral tactic. The focus of her words outside No 10 were those who feel that the country works for a privileged few rather than everyone one of us. It was designed to send a clear signal that she intends to address the concerns of those who voted for Brexit out of a sense of general disenchantment with politics.

Reconnecting the public with their political system is a public good in and of itself, but her comments recognised that for many, voting Leave was first and foremost a protest vote against the political establishment. Our membership of the EU was simply the lightening rod that gave expression to the deep levels of disenfranchisement and alienation that many feel with contemporary Britain and had very little to do with our membership of the EU.

Her focus on the cost of living and education shows an awareness that Brexit on its own is unlikely to resolve the underlying pressures facing ordinary working class families. Most evidence appears to suggest that without compensatory mechanisms Brexit could actually make their lives that much harder. It remains unclear, however, what measures she has in mind when she said that “we will do everything we can do to give you more control over your lives”.

In her only campaign speech for the Tory leadership which she delivered in Birmingham on Monday she promised to preside over a more responsible form of capitalism tackling boardroom excesses and predatory corporate takeovers. She highlighted the need to tackle problems on productivity and indicated that government backed project bonds could be used to boost infrastructure. At the heart of her speech was the need for a Heseltine style “proper industrial strategy” and a plan to develop all of Britain’s great cities rather than the one or two singled out by George Osborne.

Delivering on this strategy is not in itself dependent on Brexit but it will determine how much room for manoeuvre she has over the Brexit negotiations.  Delivering a Brexit which secures access to the single market while accepting some it not all of its costs will only be possible if the Prime Minister is able to show to the country that she is making progress addressing the concerns and grievances that led many to use the EU referendum as a cry for help. At the very least, she needs to be able to say that their concerns have been heard and are being addressed.

This strategy will take time which is why it comes as no surprise that she has appointed David Davis to lead the Brexit negotiations and Liam Fox to be international trade secretary. Both campaigned for Britain to leave the EU, and have impeccable Brexit credentials, but neither of them favour an immediate trigger of Article 50. Their appointments alongside that of the flamboyant Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary gives a clear signal that Brexit means Brexit but that Brexit will be played out over the long-term.

The UK’s exit from the EU represents the biggest upheaval in British foreign and economic policy in decades. The early signs though are that the new PM is determined that Britain should not just survive but thrive outside the EU and is determined to assemble a team that can unify both the party and the country and build an economy that works for everyone.

Many will question Boris Johnson’s appointment as Foreign Secretary but he is the consummate salesman and it is clear that he has been tasked with selling Brexit to the world as an amazing act of national self-confidence rather than self-harm. If there are concerns it is that the whole foreign policy machinery of government now appears to have been recalibrated to deliver on Brexit and that it will have little bandwidth to deal with anything else.

These anxieties become most marked in the field of international development. The Department for International Development might have survived, but it now has a woman at the helm who questioned in 2013 whether it should be renamed as the Department for International  Trade and Development with Britain’s aid budget being used to support British trade deals.

We now know that Brexit means Brexit but we must be careful that we don’t allow Brexit to become an end in and of itself.

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Brexit, integralism and the Counter-Enlightenment

k6967As part of my efforts to make sense of last month’s referendum decision to leave the EU I’ve been reading Integral Europe by social anthropologist Douglas Holmes published in 2000.

Holmes explores how the secular and cosmopolitan agenda of advanced European integration has been accompanied by the emergence of hard-line populist movements with goals diametrically opposed to the ideals of a harmonious European Union.  He argues that movements such as Le Pen’s National Front Party are philosophically rooted in, what he calls ‘integralism’, a sensibility that, in its most benign form enables people to maintain their ethnic identity and solidarity within the context of an increasingly pluralistic society.

Taken to irrational levels by the likes of Marie Le Pen, however, integralism is being used to inflame people’s feelings of alienation and powerlessness generated by a ‘fast capitalism’ that ‘flattens’ our pre-existing frameworks of social meaning upon which our understanding of industrial democracies rest. The consequences are seen in an invidious politics of exclusion that spawns cultural nationalism, racism and social disorder.

Holmes does not explicitly study Britain’s disillusionment with Europe, but many of the process that he identifies through right-wing activities echo the way some British politicians, Nigel Farage and his associates to name but a few, have shrewdly discerned ruptures in the experiences of belonging that threaten various registers of European identity.

What made Leave such a potent political movement was that its advocates unashamedly offered a Union Jack draped package of measures to Britain’s working poor as a quick fix solution to their profound sense of alienation and dislocation from the world. It invoked a working class solidarity against a stark individualistic ethic and a cosmopolitan agenda based on universal values and a borderless style of living.The culprits were seen as a remote and uncaring Westminster political elite and Brussels based technocratic managers of the single market. The result was a popular pluralism that found expression in an invidious doctrine of difference and a renewed sense of British exceptionalism.

A striking feature of the Leave campaign was that it relied on enigmatic inner truths for its legitimacy. Like other counter-enlightenment movements, it defied rational appraisal and frustrated external scrutiny.  Holmes recalls Le Pen saying in 1997 that “that there are other reasons for our fate than Reason” which echos Michael Gove’s claim during the referendum campaign that “the people have had enough of experts”. The Leave campaign intentionally turned its back on complexity and nuance to embrace a counter-factual world. Brexit was seen as the master-key which unlooked every door of reality. Sadly, its advocates have became incapable of distinguishing among the different levels of reality.

For many on the Tory right, however, who trace their ideological roots back to the ‘Maastricht Rebels’ this was always going to be a marriage of convenience and political opportunism. Going forward, it is far from clear that Brexit will provide the working poor with any real comfort against what Joseph Schumpeter has famously described as the “gale of creative destruction” represented by liberalised markets and fast capital. Brexit will not restore the relationship that binds the poor and disadvantage to a wider social nexus. After all, it’s not just the poor who are finding that social relations and meaning have been flattened by globalisation.

The level of economic interdependence between the UK and the EU suggests that without some compensatory mechanism Brexit will hit the working poor – the back bone of the army of Brexiteers – the hardest. Perhaps then the most notable announcement on Monday from Theresa May, Britain’s incoming Prime Minister, was not so much that Brexit means Brexit – even now no one knows what Brexit means – but that Britain needs a new industrial strategy. This is a welcome development, but it remains to be seen whether this strategy will provide a clear formula for the reintegration of the working poor into the land of hope and glory or whether, as under Blair, the ‘workless class’ are written off yet again as the ‘worthless class’.

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The Conservative leadership election and the slow death of party democracy

ndrea329 Conservative Members of Parliament have determined that Britain’s next Prime Minister will be either Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom.

The final choice as to who will be Prime Minister rests not with the 53 million people eligible to vote in a General Election, but with the 150,000 ordinary members of the Conservative Party.image

72% of the electorate voted in the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, but less than 1% of the electorate will actually get the chance to put a cross against one of the two names for Prime Minister.

This election is first and foremost a contest to see who will become the next leader of the Conservative Party. It is only by virtue of the 2015 General Election result that the leader of the Conservative Party will also be the next Prime Minister.

But let’s remember here that 66% of the electorate took part in the 2015 General Election that saw David Cameron returned as Prime Minister. You might not have voted for him but at least you had a vote. Unless you are a paid up member of the Conservative Party you won’t have a say on the outcome of this leadership contest until the next General Election. This is currently scheduled in 2020. No Conservative MP I’ve spoke to since the referendum has expressed any appetite for an early General Election.

It is fashionable to paint the June 23 Referendum as a vote against the political establishment and against vested interests that have for too long thwarted the voices of marginalised communities. If true, the Conservative Party leadership election reflects a stark return to business as usual which can only disappoint and anger those that voted last month. For so long as this situation lasts there will always be a role for protest style politics whether that be in the shape of UKIP or the Corbynistas.

The strength of Britain’s parliamentary system has always been depended on political parties being the established vehicles through which citizens express their political preferences as to who should rule them. The current Tory leadership contest shows that this is self-evidently no longer the case. It might have held true in the early 1950s, when 2.8 million Britons were paid up members of the Conservative Party, but there are now barely 150,000 members and even this is optimistic as there is no comprehensive, accurate or up to date membership list.

imageThe scandal currently engulfing the Tory party as to the falsification of election expenses during the 2015 General Election is in part due to the weakness of the party locally. Extra capacity now needs to be bussed in for elections. The party’s base is shrinking fast and ageing. It is certainly no longer representative of modern Britain. This isn’t just a Tory predictament or even a British one. Party allegiance and voter enthusiasm is declining across the board.

One of the best commentaries I’ve read on this democratic crisis is that provided by the political scientist Peter Mair. His book, Ruling the Void, published after his death in 2011 opens with this declaration: “The age of party democracy has passed. Although the parties themselves remain, they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.”

What we are left with is a governing class, a political elite, marked out by education, class and profession from the people they are meant to be representing. There are exceptions to this, but as in the case of Jo Cox they are all too rare. This arrangement was tolerated when living standards were rising, but since the financial crash of 2008 the era of government by elites has increasingly being called into question.

Despite the media circus that will accompany the Conservative leadership election, we should be in no doubt that what we are seeing is a further nail in the coffin of Britain’s party democracy. What is supplanting it is an unholy coalition of elites and cults that has little interest in serving the wider public or in encouraging the human flourishing of all in society.

Commentators have been quick to claim that Britain’s decision to leave the EU is the most significant event in British history since the end of the Second World War. This may well be true. But if Britain is to successfully negotiate this transition then it will require politicians and the public to re-engage with one another in a way that they haven’t for years.

Britain’s democracy cannot work without parties. But when political parties cease to play their proper role, democracy itself is at stake. Brexit is an opportunity to reinvent our politics. Sadly, the process by which Britain will choose its next Prime Minister is not the best of starts. It smacks of business as usual and weakens our democracy when we need its protection most.

Whatever the long term future of party democracy here in the UK the immediate crisis as to who should be the Prime Minister to negotiate our exit from the EU is far too important a decision to be left to 150,000. If the next PM is to govern with any degree of legitimacy then she would be wise to seek a wider democratic mandate at the earliest opportunity.

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Towards a new European diplomatic strategy

How might Brexit impact on the UK’s European diplomatic strategy and its place in the world more broadly?

The short answer is no one really knows as the terms of Britain’s exit have yet to be determined. Uncertainty reigns. What follows then is nothing more than a first attempt at sketching a few initial thoughts to a question that this blog will return to repeatedly over the coming months, if not years.

Ever since Britain applied for membership of the European Economic Community successive British Governments have tried to shape the process of European integration to reflect the national interest. Brexit reflects a significant departure from this core tenet in Britain’s European engagement and in turn its foreign policy.

Unless the UK pursues a Canadian style model of relating to the EU, then the key short-term ambition will be to secure the maximum access to the single market with the minimum cost. The government needs to be willing to use the leverage which Britain has in the field of defence and security to break the emerging stalemate over market access.

Even this linkage and attempt at leverage might not be sufficient and in the end Britain might need to accept that we can’t negotiate a little less access to the single market for a little less immigration. Either way we need to avoid the scenario as highlighted by Gideon Rachman this week in the Financial Times, that the negotiations don’t head south into a deep well of bitterness and anger.  The negotiations will be robust but both sides need to work hard to make this an amicable rather than an acrimonious or agonizing divorce.

When taking forward these negotiations the next PM would do well to remember the results of the Balance of Competence review undertaken by the Coalition Government. The reviews undertaken on foreign policy, enlargement, trade and investment, development cooperation and humanitarian aid all underlined that it is “generally strongly in the UK’s interest to work through the EU”.

Even if working through the EU is no longer available, Britain needs to maximize the ways of working with the EU. It will remain in Britain’s interest to work with the EU on issues that threaten our collective security whether that be Russian aggression in Europe or the refugee crisis from North and Africa and the Middle East. These issues are not going to miraculously disappear with Brexit.

The same holds true for the EU. Britain still contributes 0.7% of GNI to aid and 2% to defence. It is still a member of the G7, G20, NATO, OSCE, Council of Europe and a Permament Member of the United Nations Security Council. It is also a member of the International Syria Support Group and a host of other contact groups.

Brexit might diminish the EU’s economic and political weight as well as its international standing, but it is certainly not in Britain’s interests for there to be a wider unravelling of the EU. Comments by Nigel Lawson and others that post-Brexit the UK needs to be a shining light of democracy and liberty to other member states tied to a doomed authoritarian project need to be ignored. They are aggressively shortsighted and if given weight can only damage our future relationship with the EU.

At times, Britain, like the United States of America, will need to be a critical friend to the EU. There are parallels here with how the UK encouraged and supported the Eurozone governments to find a resolution to the Greek debt crisis even if the UK remained for the most part aloof from any rescue package.  Brexit provides the UK with an opportunity to balance its special relationship with US with a new special relationship with the EU.

Negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU will be a tough and complex affair where power politics will come to the fore. But, if the manner of our leaving will shape how we work together in the future then it is important that both sides recognize that their respective futures are in no small part tied up with the economic, political and social wellbeing of the other.

Negotiating Britain’s exit is too important an issue to be left to a small specially created unit in Whitehall. The complexity of the negotiations should not diminish their transparency. Parliamentary scrutiny is important as is the wider involvement of civil society. Civil society has a particularly important role to play  both in critiquing the content of the negotiations, and in pressing all sides to adopt a conciliatory tone and to where possible find solutions that encourage mutual compromise and concessions.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s intervention in the House of Lords on Tuesday criticizing Tory leader candidates for using the position of EU nationals legally resident in the UK as bargaining chips in any future negotiation is a good example of the type of interventions that will be needed over the next few years. These intervention need also to involve religious figures and civil society leaders across the EU. If ever there was a time for the Churches to use their bilateral and multilateral European ecumenical relationships to good effect then this is it.

Even as we separate, we need to build bridges of reconciliation to ensure that we can still work together for the wider common good. Embedding the negotiations within a wider national conversation would give them legitimacy and help shape a narrative as to Britain’s role in today’s global political economy.

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