Imperial self-congratulations on saving 3 million lives

Late last night there was an article at the BBC that I cannot find anymore on the BBC website. Fortunately my history still has the link.

The article linked to a pre-publication article in Nature from the team at Imperial College – Estimating the effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in Europe

On pdf page 16 of 18. Modelled estimates that by 4th May lockdowns across 11 countries saved 2.8 – 3.1 million lives.
From pdf page 6 / article page 5 there are four countries listed on the Fig 1, the last being the UK.

It graphics show that on the day of the lockdowns massively reduced daily new infections & the magic R. For the UK modelled daily infections spiked at over 400,000 on the day of the lockdown and were less than 100,000 the day after. R from around 4 at lockdown to 1 the day after. Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a very powerful and sincere speech ordering the lockdown, but he did not realize how transformative the power of his words would be.

I believe that the key to these startling conclusions lies in the model assumptions not the data of the natural world. We have no idea of the total number of coronavirus cases in any country at the start of lockdown, just that the identified number of cases. Thus whilst the model estimates of the number of cases cannot be proved wrong, it is very unlikely. I can think of five reasons to back up my claim, with particular reference to the UK.

First, the measures taken prior to the lockdown had no impact on coronavirus cases and hardly any on R. This includes the stopping of visitors to care homes, social distancing measures, voluntary closing of public places like pubs and the start of home working.

Second, Prime Minister Boris going on TV ordering a lockdown had an immediate impact. This is nonsense. People locked down in households, so there would have still been infections within the households.

Third, we know that many of the coronavirus deaths were of people infected whilst in a hospitals or care homes of people who were infected within care homes. The lockdown did not segregate people within those communities.

Fourth, the assumed pre-lockdown spike followed by a massive drop in daily new infections was not followed a few days later by any such corresponding pattern in daily deaths. It is far easier to make the case for a zero impact of lockdowns rather than this extreme impact. The truth, if perfect data were available, is likely to be nearer zero lives saved than 3 million.

Fifth, in Italy the lockdown was not imposed nationally on the same day. The North of Italy was locked down first, followed by the rest of the country some days later. Like with the imposition of less draconian measures pre-lockdown in the UK, this should have seen a less immediate effect than suggested by Figure 1.

Are the authors and peer-reviewers at Nature likely to be aware of the problems with the headline BBC claims and the underlying paper? Compare the caption to “Extended Data Table 1” (pdf page 16)

Forecasted deaths since the beginning of the epidemic up to 4th May in our model vs. a counterfactual model assuming no interventions had taken place.

to the report from the BBC;

Lockdowns have saved more than three million lives from coronavirus in Europe, a study estimates. …….

They estimated 3.2 million people would have died by 4 May if not for measures such as closing businesses and telling people to stay at home.

That meant lockdown saved around 3.1 million lives, including 470,000 in the UK, 690,000 in France and 630,000 in Italy, the report in the journal Nature shows.

from the Evening Standard;

Around three million deaths may have been prevented by coronavirus lockdowns across Europe, research suggests.

from yahoo! News;

By comparing the number of deaths against those predicted by their model in the absence of interventions, the researchers believe that  3.1 million deaths have been averted due to non-pharmaceutical measures.

and from eCAM Biomed – GLOBAL IMPACT FUND

This study found that nonpharmaceutical interventions, including national “lockdowns,” could have averted approximately 3.1 million COVID-19 deaths across 11 European countries.

These press reports is not disimilar to the title of the Imperial College press release

Lockdown and school closures in Europe may have prevented 3.1m deaths

I would suggest that they are different from the caption to Extended Table 1. The difference is between comparison of actual data to modelled data based on some unlikely assumptions and actual lives saved in the real world. The difference is between the lockdowns having saved 3 million lives and having saved many times less. It is between the desisions of governments sacrificing economic prosperity to save hundreds of thousands of lives, and taking ruining the lives of millions based on pseudo-science for near zero benefits. The authors should be aware of this and so should the reviewers of the world’s leading science journal.
Are we going to see a quiet withdrawal, like of the BBC report?

Kevin Marshall

Dumb hard left proclamation replaces pluralistic thirst for knowledge and understanding

Last week Guido Fawkes had a little piece that, in my opinion, illustrates how nasty the world is becoming. I quote in full.

IMPERIAL COLLEGE DROPS “IMPERIAL” MOTTO
ROOTED IN POWER & OPPRESSION

In response to representations from students inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement Imperial College’s President, Professor Alice Gast, has announced they are dropping their “imperialist” Latin motto.

“I have heard from many of you with concerns about the university motto and its appearance on our crest. The Latin motto appears on a ribbon below the crest and is commonly translated to ‘Scientific knowledge, the crowning glory and the safeguard of the empire’. We have removed this ribbon and the motto in a revised crest you can see below in this briefing. This modified crest is already in use by my office and the Advancement team and will be integrated into all of our materials over the coming year. We will commission a group to examine Imperial’s history and legacy. We have a long way to go, but we will get better. We will build upon our community’s spirit, commitment and drive. We will draw strength from your commitment and support.”

The College’s motto, coined in 1908, was ‘Scientia imperii decus et tutamen’ which translates as ‘Scientific knowledge, the crowning glory and the safeguard of the empire’. As Titania McGrath might say this motto “is a reminder of a historical legacy that is rooted in colonial power and oppression”. That’s an actual quote from the college’s President, in the interests of diversity she is erasing the past. As someone once wrote “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

UPDATE:This old article from 1995 describes the arms and motto of Imperial College, paying particular attention to the deliberate ambiguity of the Latin:

Thus DECUS ET TUTAMEN translates as ‘an honour and a protection’. The rest of the motto is deliberately ambiguous. SCIENTIA means ‘knowledge’ but is also intended as a pun on the English word ‘science’. IMPERII could mean ‘power’, ‘dominion over’, ‘universal’, ‘of the empire’, ‘of the state’, or ‘superior’; and again is intended as a pun on the English word ‘imperial’.

Because of this ambiguity the full motto can be translated in many different ways. One translation could be: ‘Dominion over science is an honour and a protection’. A more politically correct translation might be: ‘Universal knowledge is beautiful and necessary’.

The Black Lives Matter translation of the motto – ‘Scientific knowledge, the crowning glory and the safeguard of the empire’ – might be valid, but so are many other formulations. Indeed, although Britain at the start of the last century was the most powerful nation and ruled the most extensive empire in history, along with competing with the United States & Germany as the leaders in the pursuit of scientific knowledge, the motto has proved untrue. Imperialists who backed the foundation of Imperial College who thought that scientific knowledge would safeguard empire were mistaken. What is left is an Imperial College ranked about tenth in world rankings of universities so it is a glorious product of imperialist thinking. Given that it is still thriving it is more glorious that the majestic ruins of earlier empires, such as the Colesium in Rome or the Parthenon in Athens.

Deeper than this is that the motto is deliberately a pun. It is superfically meaningful in different ways to those from a diverse range of backgrounds and belief systems. But to those with deeper understanding – achieved through high level study and reflection – know that more than one valid perspective is possible. That also leads into the realisation that our own knowledge, or the collective that of any groups that we might identifying as belonging to, is not the totality of all knowledge possible, and might be even turn out to be false some time in the future. This humility gives a basis for furthering understanding of both the natural world and the place of people within it. Rather than shutting out alternative perspectives, we should develop understanding of our own world view, and aiming to understand others. This is analogous to the onus in English Common Law for the prosecution to prove a clearly defined case beyond reasonable doubt based on the evidence. It is also applies to the key aim of the scientific method. Conjectures about the natural world are ultimately validated by experiments based in the natural world.

Consider the alternative “ideal” that we are heading towards at an alarming rate of knots. What counts as knowledge is the collective opinion of those on the self-proclaimed moral high ground. In this perspective those who do not accept the wisdom of the intellectual consensus are guilty of dishonesty and should not be heard. All language and observations of the natural world are interpreted through this ideological position. Any conflict of is resolved by the consensus. Is it far fetched? A quote from Merchants of Doubt – Oreskes Conway 2010.

Sunday Times exaggerates price gauging on Amazon

It has been many months since last posting on this blog due to being engaged in setting up a small business after many years working as a management accountant, mostly in manufacturing. For the first time this year I purchased the Sunday Times. What caught my attention was an article “Amazon sellers rolling in dough from flour crisis“. As my speciality was product costing I noticed a few inaccuracies and exaggerations.

Sunday Times article from page 6 of print edition 03/05/20


The first issue was on the fees.

Amazon sells many products directly to consumers but more than half of its sales are from third-party sellers on its “Marketplace”. They pay fees to the online giant of up to 15% of the sale price.

The fees at least 15% of the sale price. This is if the seller despatches for themselves, incurring the cost of postage and packing.

Let us take an example of the price rises.

A packet of 45 rolls of Andrex lavatory roll rose from under £24 to more than £95.

For somebody purchasing from Amazon with prime, they will get free postage on purchases over £20. So they can get 45 rolls delivered for about the standard price in a supermarket of 5 x 9 roll packs at £4.50 each. Using an third party app (which might not be accurate) for the Classic Clean Andrex, I find that third party sellers were selling at £23.45 up to March 8 when stocks ran out. Further Amazon were selling for about 3 days at £18.28 until Sunday March 8, when they also ran out. Apart from on Fri Mar 13 Amazon did not have supplies until late April. It was during this period that 3rd party sellers were selling at between £50 & £99.99. Any items offered for sale sold very quickly.

Now suppose an enterprising individual managed to grab some Andrex from a wholesaler (est. £15 inc. VAT) and list them for sale on Amazon. How much would they make? If they already had an account (cost about £30 per month) they could despatch themselves. They would need a large box (at least 45 x 45 x 35 cm) which they might be able to buy for under £30 for a pack of 15. They would have to pay postage. It is £20.45 at the Post Office. If anyone can find a carrier (for 6.5kg) cheaper than £12, including insurance and pick up, please let me know in the comments. If the selling at £50, the costs would be at least £7.50 + £15 + £2 + £12 = £36.50. To make a quick buck it is a lot of work.

This is, however, a bad example. Let us try a much lower weight product. The classic Uno Card Game, that the Sunday Times claims was listed at £5.60 on March 1st and £5.60-£17.99 on April 30th. This compares with £7.00 at Argos & Sainsbury’s and £6.97 at Asda. The inaccuracy here is with the range of prices, as there were multiple sellers on both dates, with £5.60 being the price sold by Amazon themselves. Actual selling prices fluctuate during March and this evening the prices are between £5.49 and £17.99. It is usually the case with popular products that there are multiple sellers. During March and April Amazon were out of stock, with actual selling prices between £4.99 and £19.00. Most often it was in the range of £9.00-£11.50.

A final example from the Sunday Times is for Carex Handwash Sensitive 250ml. As an antibacterial product, as soon as the Government recommended frequent hand washing the product sold out in supermarkets. As such it was ripe for making super-profits dueing the period of panic buying. This product used to be frequently available at £1 or slightly more. The Sunday Times lists the Amazon price at £1.99 on March 1st and at £5.98-£11.50 on April 30th. My App shows a single seller at £7.99, with the March 1st price of £3.25. The Sunday Times have probably picked up a different listing that is no longer available. The best value Carex antibacterial at the time of writing appears to be this listing for 2 x 250ml, where the price ranges from £9.49 to £13.16 including delivery. Selling at around £3.64 prior to March, the selling price peaked at around £32.99 in mid-March.

Whilst the Sunday Times article may not have the best examples, it does highlight that some people have made extraordinary profits by either being in the right place at the right time, or by quickly reacting to changing market information and anticipating the irrational panic buying of many shoppers. Here the problem is not with entrepreneurs meeting demand, but with consumers listening to the fearmongers in the media and social media believing that a pandemic “shutdown” would stop the movement of goods, along with a cultural ignorance of the ability of markets to rapidly respond to new information. In the supermarkets shelves many needlessly emptied shelves. Much of the fresh food bought in panic was binned. Further, many households will not be purchasing any more rice, tinned tomatoes and toilet rolls for many months. Since then there has been an extraordinary response by suppliers and supermarkets in filling the shortages. The slowest responses to shortages have been where the state is the dominant purchaser or the monopoly supplier and purchaser. The former is in the area of PPE, and the latter in the area of coronovirus testing.

Finally, there is a puzzle as to why there is such a range of prices available for an item on Amazon. A reason is that many of the the high-priced sellers were competitive, but the price has fallen dramtically. Another is that the higher-priced sellers are either hoping people make a mistake, or have “shops” on Amazon, that lure people in with low price products and hope they occassionally buy other, over-priced products. Like the old-fashinoned supermarket loss-leaders, but on steroids. Alternatively they may have the products listed elsewhere (e.g. actual shops or on Ebay) and/or a range of products with the extraordinary profits of the few offsetting the long-term write-offs of the many. There is the possibility that these hopefuls will be the future failures, as will be the majority of entrepreneurial ventures in any field.

Kevin Marshall

How misleading economic assumptions can show Brexit making people worse off

Last week the BBC News headlined Brexit deal means ‘£70bn hit to UK by 2029′ITV news had a similar report. The source, NIESR, summarizes their findings as follows:-

Fig 1 : NIESR headline findings 

£70bn appears to be a lot of money, but this is a 10 year forecast on an economy that currently has a GDP of £2,000bn. The difference is about one third of one percent a year. The “no deal” scenario is just £40bn worse than the current deal on offer, hardly an apocalyptic scenario that should not be countenanced. Put another way, if underlying economic growth is 2%, from the NIESR in ten years the economy will be between 16% and 22% larger.   In economic forecasting, the longer the time frame, the more significant the underlying assumptions. The reports are based on an NIESR open-access paper  Prospects for the UK Economy – Arno Hantzsche, Garry Young, first published 29 Oct 2019. The key basis is contained in Figures 1 & 2, reproduced below.

Fig 2 : Figures 1 & 2 from the NIESR paper “Prospects for the UK Economy

The two key figures purport to show that Brexit has made a difference. Business investment growth has apparently ground to a halt since mid-2016 and economic growth slowed. What it does not show is a decline in business investment, nor a halting of economic growth.

After these figures the report states:-

The reason that investment has been affected so much by the Brexit vote is that businesses fear that trade with the EU will be sufficiently costly in the future – especially with a no-deal Brexit – that new investment will not pay off. Greater clarity about the future relationship, especially removing the no-deal threat, might encourage some of that postponed investment to take place. But that would depend on the type of deal that is ultimately negotiated. A deal that preserved the current close trading relationship between the UK and EU could result in an upsurge in investment. In contrast, a deal that would make it certain that there would be more trade barriers between the UK and EU in the future would similarly remove the risk of no deal but at the same time eliminate the possibility of closer economic ties, offsetting any boost to economic activity.

This statement asserts, without evidence, that the cause of the change in investment trend is singular. That is due to business fears over Brexit. There is no corroborating evidence to back this assumption, such as surveys of business confidence, or decline in the stock markets. Nor is there a comparison with countries other than the UK, to show that any apparent shifts are due to other causes, such as the normal business cycle. Yet it is this singular assumed cause of the apparent divergence from trend that is used as the basis of forecasting for different policy scenarios a decade into the future.

The rest of this article will concentrate of the alternative evidence, to show that any alleged change in economic trends are either taken out of context or did not occur as a result of Brexit. For this I use World Bank data over a twenty year period, comparing to the Euro area. If voting to leave the EU has had a significant impact in economic trends 

Net Foreign Direct Investment

There is no data for the narrow business investment at the World Bank. The alternative is net foreign direct investment.


Fig 3 : Data for net foreign direct investment from 1999 to 2018 for the Euro area and the UK.

UK net foreign direct investment was strongly negative in 2014 to 2016, becoming around zero in 2017 and 2018. The Euro area shows an opposite trend. Politically, in 2014 UKIP won the UK elections to the European Parliament, followed in 2015 by a promise of a referendum on the EU. Maybe the expectation of Britain voting to leave the EU could have had impact? More likely this net outflow is connected to the decline in the value of the pound. From xe.com

Fig 4 : 10 year GBP to USD exchange rates. Source xe.com

The three years of net negative FDI were years of steep declines in the value of the pound. In the years before and after, when exchange rates were more stable, net FDI was near zero.

GDP growth rates %

The NIESR choose to show the value of quarterly output to show a purported decline in the rate of economic growth post EU Referendum. More visible are the GDP growth rates.

Fig 5 : Annual GDP growth rates for the Euro area and the UK from 1999 to 2018. 

The Euro area and the UK suffered a economic crash of similar magnitude in 2008 and 2009. From 2010 to 2018 the UK has enjoyed unbroken economic growth, peaking in 2014. Growth rates were declining well before the EU referendum. The Euro area was again in recession in 2012 and 2013, which more than offsets the stronger growth than the UK from 2016 to 2018. In the years 2010 to 2018 Euro area GDP growth averaged 1.4%, compared with 1.5% for the years 1999 to 2009. In the UK it was 1.9% in both periods. The NIESR is essentially claiming that leaving the EU without a deal will reduce UK growth to levels comparable with most of the EU. 

Unemployment – total and youth

Another matrix is unemployment rates. If voting to leave has impacted business investment and economic growth, one would expect a lagged impact on unemployment.

Fig 6 : Unemployment rates (total and youth) for the Euro area and the UK from 1999 to 2019. The current year is to September.

Unemployment in the Euro area has always been consistently higher than in the UK. The second recession in 2012 and 2013 in the Euro area resulted in unemployment peaking at least two years later than the UK. But in both places there has been over five years of falling unemployment. Brexit seems to have zero impact on the trend in the UK, where unemployment is now the lowest since the early 1970s. 

The average rates of total unemployment for the period 1999-2018 are 8.2% in the Euro area and 6.0% in the UK. For youth unemployment they are 20.9% and 14.6% respectively. 

The reason for higher rates of unemployment in EU countries for decades is largely down to greater regulatory rigidities than the UK. 

Concluding comments

NIESR’s assumptions that the slowdowns in business investment and economic growth are soley due to the uncertainties created by Brexit are not supported by the wider evidence. Without support for that claim, the ten year forecasts of slower economic growth due to Brexit fail entirely. Instead Britain should be moving away from EU stagnation with high youth unemployment, charting a better course that our European neighbours will want to follow. 

Kevin Marshall

In the interests of the EU should the EU council grant an extension to the UK?

Brexit looks to be currently at stalemate in the UK. As at the morning of Monday 21 October 2019, I have tried to lay out the perspective of the EU Council if it aims to follow, in spirit, Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union. That is, aiming at leaving aside any political biases that the EU or myself may have on the issue.

After the Government pulled a meaningful vote on the revised political declaration on Saturday they will try again for a meaningful vote today. Following the inability to get the deal passed, on Saturday evening Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent the letter requesting an extention of the Article 50, as required by the the Benn Act. It was a photocopy and unsigned. This can be found on the government website page Letters from the UK to the EU Council: 19 October 2019. Boris Johnson also sent a signed letter to Donald Tusk to be found on the government website page Prime Minister’s letter to President Donald Tusk: 19 October 2019.

The Formal Letter is as follows

Dear Mr President,

The UK Parliament has passed the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. Its provisions now require Her Majesty’s Government to seek an extension of the period provided under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty, currently due to expire at 11.00pm GMT on 31 October 2019, until 11.00pm GMT on 31 January 2020.

I am writing therefore to inform the European Council that the United Kingdom is seeking a further extension to the period provided under Article 50(3) of the Treaty on European Union, including as applied by Article 106a of the Euratom Treaty. The United Kingdom proposes that this period should end at 11.00pm GMT on 31 January 2020. If the parties are able to ratify before this date, the Government proposes that the period should be terminated early.

Yours sincerely,

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

This letter provides no reason for extending the Article 50(3) period. The Prime Minister’s letter provides context for at least withholding the decision on the extension. With a deal between the EU and the UK not actually put to a vote by the UK parliament, there is clearly no reason for granting of an extension. Indeed, granting an extension before that deal is decided would likely ensure that the deal is voted down. Refusal to grant an extension would see the EU effectively ejecting a member state with no deal, something that neither the EU, nor a majority in the UK parliament desire.

The EU council are bound by Article 50. I covered legal analysis of Article 50 by the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland last month. Like the judicial ruling I quoted Article 50 in full. The legal analysis was

Certain aspects of Article 50 did not fall to be construed in either Miller or Wightman. Bearing in mind that the exercise is one of construing a measure of EU law, I consider that those aspects of Article 50 not addressed in either Miller or Wightman yield the following construction:

(i) First, there is no concept, meaning or definition of “negotiate” supporting the view that the clause beginning “… the Union shall negotiate … ” denotes a duty and exercise unilateral in nature. It takes two to tango. The concept of negotiation must surely be, depending on its context, something bilateral or multilateral in nature. This discrete element of Article 50(2) would be emptied of meaning and rendered nugatory if it is not to be construed thus.
(ii) There is no legal context known to this court which dictates that negotiations must culminate in a legally binding agreement between the negotiating parties. There is nothing in the text of Article 50 which displaces this proposition. Nor is there any identifiable basis or rationale for implying any different or contrary
construction.
(iii) Article 50(2) clearly establishes an imperative, namely a negotiated and concluded withdrawal agreement, without purporting to mandate that this occur.
(iv) Article 50(3) expressly contemplates the possibility that the negotiations required by Article 50(2) will not culminate in a withdrawal agreement.
(v) The plain aim of the two year period specified in Article 50(3) is the promotion of stability and certainty in the EU.
(vi) The provision made in Article 50(3) for consensual extension of the basic two year period is plainly designed to further the overarching imperative of a negotiated and concluded withdrawal agreement.

Note that this analysis was upon matters raised by those wanting the judicial review, so may not be comprehensive for the current purposes.

Point (i) clearly states that two parties must negotiate. In the current circumstances who negotiates with the EU Council? The Benn Act coerces the Prime Minister to act against his clearly stated will. So you have parliament saying one thing and the recognised Prime Minister saying another. By “recognised” I mean by, parliament, the Queen as Head of State, and the EU Council,  in its negotiations with the UK last week. Parliament has had opportunities to constitutionally remove the Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. They twice failed to vote for a general election at the start of September. Also the leader of the opposition has had numerous opportunities to table a vote of no confidence and then try to form a coalition government. In my view, Article 51 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969) may have some relevance.

Clearly the Prime Minister is not concluding a Treaty under the letter he was coerced into sending, just requesting an extension or a negotiating perios . However, it would be highly embarrassing for the EU Council to assent to an extension in the full knowledge that it against the will of the person who they have recognised as the UK’s representative.

Point (ii) states that reaching a withdrawal agreement might not be possible, whilst point (iii) states that it is a clear imperative. It is this context that the EU Council ought to withhold any decision on extension until it is clear that the agreed deal will not pass. Doing so would undermine their own efforts to reach a deal.

Point (iv) refers to Article 50(3) as having an imperative, namely a negotiated withdrawal agreement. Point (vi) makes clear this is the overarching imperative of any extension. If it is clear that any deal will not pass then there is no justification for extending the Article 50 period beyond the 31 October Point (v) is the plain aim of two year period for leaving – and by implication any extensions – is for the promotion of stability and certainty in the EU . Clearly the current situation is causing considerable instabilities and uncertainties is both the UK and the EU as a whole. Perhaps another incentive not to extend is the term office of Presidents Juncker and Tusk end on 31 October. Personally they will not want to leave the issue of Brexit still unresolved.

If parliament rejects the current deal, why should the EU Council extend? The possible position of the EU is to express clear exasperation with the UK, and make clear an extension will be contingent on the UK being in a position to make clear decisions by a stipulated date. That would imply the UK holding a general election at the earliest opportunity that will result in a clear position on Brexit. That is to leave, with or without a deal, or to revoke Article 50. It would mean that the EU has to agree with Nigel Farage, and it could see the resignation of Boris Johnson who whose main aim is to see Britain leave at the end of the month “do or die”. Whether he resigns or not, the Conservatives would likely drop in the opinion polls, which might see another hung parliament. The Labour Party would need to campaign on a clear position, as if they win on current policies, they would not comply. The alternative of a second referendum with only two options of “leave with the current deal” and “revoke Article 50” would not carry legitimacy unless there was some clause to allow for people who want neither option. For instance it could be that the result would only recognised if it by a clear majority of the ballot papers counted.

If parliament remains in its current state, it is clearly in the interests of the EU not to extend, to ensure that there is minimum continued disruption to the EU from Brexit. It is also clear that in preventing any possible disruption from a no-deal Brexit it will have the fullest cooperation from the current UK Executive.

Kevin Marshall

An EU Withdrawal Parliament can agree on?

More than 24 hours overdue there is a political resolution to Brexit that will form the basis of a withdrawal agreement. It is enthusiastically endorsed by both Boris Johnson and Jean-Claude Juncker. Further, the EU appears to be ruling out any extension of the withdrawal period beyond 31st October. Therefore, the Benn Surrender Act, forcing to the Prime Minister to request an extension in the event of parliament failing to pass the agreement, will be meaningless. It takes two tango, and the EU looks to be tired of the dancing.

From a quick read of the document I have extracted some points, and made notes of my opinions. The copy was obtained from Guido Fawkes. I have uploaded the document here. I would commend people to read it themselves before passing judgement. My overall view is that

  • Like the Church of England, the declaration has a very British feel, being short on detail and a lot of fudge.
  • There are some points that are troubling, such as on fisheries.
  • It ratchets into UK law common elements of EU and British politics. Whilst many parts are laudable (e.g. co-operation on security issues and maintenance of human rights) others are reflect current pervasive ideological fads. A liberal democracy should be able to separate the two elements, but in this age of mass and baseless opinions it is the latter that is more important than the former. Traditionally in Britain, it has been common principles that have upheld liberal democratic principles
  • It includes good principles of “a level playing field” and understanding other points of view. Such principles are clearly out of fashion in the current politics of the remainers and the hard left.
  • There is no trace of being bound by EU Law beyond 2020, nor of having to support EU projects financially for an indefinite period.
  • As I state at the foot of the article, the substance might be irrelevent to whether this declaration is accepted by pariament.

On with the extracts.

II. GOODS – A. Objectives and principles includes

20. These arrangements will take account of the fact that following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the Union, the Parties will form separate markets and distinct legal orders. Moving goods across borders can pose risks to the integrity and proper functioning of these markets, which are managed through customs procedures and checks.

This must include some sort of border checks either between Ireland and Northern Ireland, or between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Although the backstop has been removed, we have classic diplomatic fudge to replace it. It is a no-go for the DUP.

21. However, with a view to facilitating the movement of goods across borders, the Parties envisage comprehensive arrangements that will create a free trade area, combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition, as set out in Section XIV of this Part.

B. Tariffs

22. The economic partnership should through a Free Trade Agreement ensure no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors with appropriate and modern accompanying rules of origin, and with ambitious customs arrangements that are in line with the Parties’ objectives and principles above.

It is proposed that there will a common free trade area. This is effectively a customs union in all but name. By implication, external tariffs and regulations will have to be the same, retaining discriminatory trading with the outside world, such as in beef and sugar. Note that it is not “free trade” in true sense of the term, but trading abiding by the same detailed regulations across the trading area. This will likely preclude Britain achieving trade agreements with other countries that are not compliant with those of the EU.

25. Such facilitative arrangements and technologies will also be considered in alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

There is no current solution to the Northern Ireland border question. A hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will not be ruled out in the future if talks break down.

III. SERVICES AND INVESTMENT

A. Objectives and principles

27. The Parties should conclude ambitious, comprehensive and balanced arrangements on trade in services and investment in services and non-services sectors, respecting each Party’s right to regulate. The Parties should aim to deliver a level of liberalisation in trade in services well beyond the Parties’ World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments and building on recent Union Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).

This is effectively the aim of the customs union. Why is Jeremy Corbyn, as a hard-left socialist, so determined to stay in a customs union that supports liberalization of the bastions of capitalism? That is banks and stock markets. This withdrawal agreement will tie the hands of a future Labour Government just as much as being a full member of the EU.

VI. CAPITAL MOVEMENTS AND PAYMENTS

41. The Parties should include provisions to enable free movement of capital and payments related to transactions liberalised under the economic partnership, subject to relevant exceptions.

In the same vein, a future Corbynista Government will be prevented from stopping capital flight.

48. Noting that the United Kingdom has decided that the principle of free movement of persons between the Union and the United Kingdom will no longer apply, the Parties should establish mobility arrangements, as set out below.

The ending of free movement was always going to apply to any withdrawal agreement.

XII. FISHING OPPORTUNITIES

71.

72.

73. Within the context of the overall economic partnership the Parties should establish a new fisheries agreement on, inter alia, access to waters and quota shares.

74. The Parties will use their best endeavours to conclude and ratify their new fisheries agreement by 1 July 2020 in order for it to be in place in time to be used for determining fishing opportunities for the first year after the transition period.

The agreement fails to guarantee that the UK will take back control of its own waters. The EU is unlikely to allow the UK to have a policy of “British waters for British vessels”.

XIII. GLOBAL COOPERATION

75. The Parties recognise the importance of global cooperation to address issues of shared economic, environmental and social interest. As such, while preserving their decision-making autonomy, the Parties should cooperate in international fora, such as the G7 and the G20, where it is in their mutual interest, including in the areas of:

a) climate change;

b) sustainable development;

c) cross-border pollution;

d) public health and consumer protection;

e) financial stability; and

f) the fight against trade protectionism.

76. The future relationship should reaffirm the Parties’ commitments to international agreements to tackle climate change, including those which implement the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change, such as the Paris Agreement.

If the British people ever saw sense and wanted to come out of the useless and costly Paris Agreement, the climate consensus could prevent this happening through the courts.

XIV. LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR OPEN AND FAIR COMPETITION

77. Given the Union and the United Kingdom’s geographic proximity and economic interdependence, the future relationship must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field. The precise nature of commitments should be commensurate with the scope and depth of the future relationship and the economic connectedness of the Parties. These commitments should prevent distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages.

This concept is peculiarly British, especially associated with Eton. Adhering to this perspective of a single set of rules for everyone is the likely reason that most of the major sports in the world, including football, tennis, golf, cricket and rugby are of British origin. However, it is contradiction with current discrimination on the basis acceptance of core beliefs. One is in Post Normal Science (especially on climate change) where lack of acceptance of a politicized mantra such as “climate change is happening, is serious, human caused and solvable” puts one beyond the pale of rational argument. Another is in politics, where failure to accept consensus intellectual beliefs (such as membership of the EU, or the need to abolish capitalism) is sufficient to charge that person with being deluded, or an outright liar. For this reason alone, those on the left, or the more rabid remainers, would be hypocritical to support a deal.

II. GOVERNANCE

B. Management, administration and supervision

126. The Parties should establish a Joint Committee responsible for managing and supervising the implementation and operation of the future relationship, facilitating the resolution of disputes as set out below, and making recommendations concerning its evolution.

127. The Joint Committee should comprise the Parties’ representatives at an appropriate level, establish its own rules of procedures, reach decisions by mutual consent, and meet as often as required to fulfil its tasks. As necessary, it could establish specialised sub-committees to assist it in the performance of its tasks.

This part I quite like. It is the two parties coming together as equals to work through and resolve differences.

C. Interpretation

128. In full respect of the autonomy of the Parties’ legal orders, the Union and the United Kingdom will seek to ensure the consistent interpretation and application of the future relationship.

There may be a lack of suitable candidates from the UK for the Joint Committee, as this type of interpretation requires that one makes the effort to understand opposing perspectives. Certainly, many of the remainer MPs will be disqualified from applying when they lose their current jobs in the upcoming general election.

D. Dispute settlement includes:-

131. The Parties indicate that should a dispute raise a question of interpretation of provisions or concepts of Union law, which may also be indicated by either Party, the arbitration panel should refer the question to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) as the sole arbiter of Union law, for a binding ruling as regards the interpretation of Union law. Conversely, there should be no reference to the CJEU where a dispute does not raise such a question.

A good point insofar as UK law is not bound by the CJEU. It is right and proper that matters of interpretation of Union law should be referred to this body.

139. This programme will be designed to deliver the Parties’ shared intention to conclude agreements giving effect to the future relationship by the end of 2020 as set out in paragraph 135. The European Commission is ready to propose applying on a provisional basis relevant aspects of the future relationship, in line with the applicable legal frameworks and existing practice.

There is no open-ended process, where the UK will be at the mercy at the EU legislation, as in the previous withdrawal agreement.

What will happen on Parliament’s Super-Saturday?

However, my comments are largely irrelevant, and so is the detail. Parliament will try any means to stop Brexit. On the other hand, Boris Johnson’s determination, clear vision and optimism have resulted in a declaration that is quite different to the withdrawal agreement rejected three times by parliament. Further, the arch remainers are in a bind now that EU leaders have said they do not want a further extension of the Article 50 period. If the question is truly “deal or no-deal” will they compromise or just abstain? Or will there be some other ruse to stop Brexit? In the Brexit battle Boris, no doubt on advice from political strategist Dominic Cummings, has out-manoeuvred his opponents. Whilst Jeremy Corbyn (Lab), Jo Swinson (Lib-dem), and Ian Blackford (SNP) have all said their parties will vote against this revised deal, they have done so by failing to understood the political trap in which they have fallen. If parliament decides to revoke Article 50 of the EU Treaty they will have to order the Prime Minister to pass this onto the EU. This will clearly be in breach of Article 51 of the Vienna Convention on Law of Treaties (1969), as Boris Johnson will only do so under coercion. As such it will make the revocation without legal effect under international law. Further, it is too late to remove the Prime Minister by legitimate means, whilst changing the role of the Prime Minister in the British Constitution at this late stage could be challenged under international law, may not be recognized by the EU and might be received badly by the British public. If the remainers abstain the deal will go through, whilst voting it down will see no-deal Brexit happen by default. Any other ruse may have already been anticipated by Cummings, such as requiring the deal to be approved by a second referendum.

Kevin Marshall

Are BETRAYAL, SURRENDER and HUMBUG appropriate words to use in Parliament?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson used the words BETRAYAL, SURRENDER and HUMBUG in Parliament following the cancellation of prorogation. The proprietary of using such words I would contend, are in the first instance, dependent on the context used, rather than upon the sensitivities of those on the receiving end of such words. To establish context I will first quote definitions, then look at the context in which they were applied. 

BETRAYAL 

From the Cambridge Dictionary

An act of betraying someone or something, or the fact of someone or something being betrayed

Point 1 of the European Union Referendum Act 2015 states

The referendum

(1)A referendum is to be held on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union.

(2)The Secretary of State must, by regulations, appoint the day on which the referendum is to be held.

(3)The day appointed under subsection (2)

(a)must be no later than 31 December 2017,

(b)must not be 5 May 2016, and

(c)must not be 4 May 2017.

(4)The question that is to appear on the ballot papers is—

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

(5)The alternative answers to that question that are to appear on the ballot papers are—

Remain a member of the European Union

Leave the European Union.

(6)In Wales, there must also appear on the ballot papers—

(a)the following Welsh version of the question—

A ddylai’r Deyrnas Unedig aros yn aelod o’r Undeb Ewropeaidd neu adael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd?, and

(b)the following Welsh versions of the alternative answers—

Aros yn aelod o’r Undeb Ewropeaidd

Gadael yr Undeb Ewropeaidd.

The Referendum was for the eligible voters to decide by a simple majority vote on whether to Leave or Remain in the EU. I do not get any impression that the Referendum was merely advisory on Parliament. Nor I can see no meaning in the question that implies leaving the EU is contingent on getting a withdrawal agreement with the EU. It is a simple question of in or out, to be decided by the referendum.  Further, I aware in recent memory of Parliament failing to be abide by the results of referenda, even when it goes against the will of a majority. Nor can most political parties claim that they did not vote for the referendum. The vote on the Second Reading of the Bill was 544 to 53, with the 53 opposed coming from the SNP. 

This is further enforced in a biased pamphlet, the government posted to every household. The pamphlet started.

An important decision for the UK

On Thursday, 23 June there will be a referendum. It’s your opportunity to decide if the UK remains in the European Union (EU).

There is nothing advisory implied in that statement, nor does it imply leaving would only be in any way partial.

The conclusion was

A once in a generation decision

The referendum on Thursday, 23 June is your chance to decide if we should remain in or leave the European Union.

The government believes it is in the best interests of the UK to remain in the EU.

This is the way to protect jobs, provide security, and strengthen the UK’s economy for every family in this country – a clear path into the future, in contrast to the uncertainty of leaving.

This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.

The heading clearly implies that there will be no second referendum to clarify the decision. The last sentence is a statement from the Conservative government of the time. However, in the campaign I was aware of the either Labour or the Lib Dems coming out and saying that they would not respect a vote to leave. Finally, is a letter I recieved dated 08.04.16 from Britain Stronger in Europe, who a few days later become the official Remain campaign. 

The first sentance states

On the 23rd June, you will get to vote in the EU Referendum, and decide whether Britain remains in or leaves the Europe.

Although confusing the EU grouping with the continent, it is quite clear that the remain campaign recognized at the time that it was up to the voters to decide.

So when over three years after the British people voted to leave the EU, parliament trying to block leaving the EU is not a “betrayal”? This cannot ne directed at the Scots Nats, but can be directed at some in the Conservative Party, the Lib Dems, the Labour Party and numerous MPs who have left the their parties in the last year.

SURRENDER

This word has a number of meanings at Free Dictionary

1. To relinquish possession or control of (something) to another because of demand or compulsion: surrendered the city to the enemy. See Synonyms at relinquish.

2. To give up in favor of another, especially voluntarily: surrendered her chair to her grandmother.

3. To give up or abandon: surrender all hope.

4. To give over or resign (oneself) to something, as to an emotion: surrendered himself to grief.

5. Law To effectuate a surrender of.

“Surrender” refers to the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, sponsored by Hilary Benn PC. This Act will forces the Prime Minister to request extension of the withdrawal period until a withdrawal agreement has been agreed. It thus surrenders ability of the Executive to negotiate fair terms with the European Union as there is no ability to depart without an agreement. By so doing, the EU could impose onerous terms, denying any form of genuine independence for the UK from European Union. It thus gives the ability of the EU to send a very clear message to other nations who might consider leaving the club. Further it encourages the EU Council to break with the “plain aim” of Article 50 (3) of the two year withdrawal period, and any subsequent mutually agreed extension, of the “promotion of stability and certainty in the EU“. Further, it compels the executive to surrender its powers to achieve aims for which it has a constitutional mandate, to a legislature which has gained no mandate for its actions. Indeed, parliament has twice refused to call a general election to gain a mandate to, in substance, reverse the result of the EU Referendum.

Humbug

From the Mirriam Webster dictionary, the noun is defined as

1a: something designed to deceive and mislead Their claims are humbug. b: a willfully false, deceptive, or insincere person He’s just an old humbug. denounced as humbugs the playwrights who magnify the difficulties of their craft— Times Literary Supplement

2: an attitude or spirit of pretense and deception in all his humbug, in all his malice and hollowness— Mary Lindsay

3: NONSENSEDRIVELacademic humbug

4 Britisha hard usually peppermint-flavored candy

The use of the word “humbug” was used by the Prime Minister in response a emotional outburst from Paula Sherriff MP. The full exchange is below.

The claimed prejorative language referred to is in relation to the Benn Act included “betrayal” and “surrender“. As outlined above, these can be viewed by those who voted to leave as accurate terms to describe that has been happening in the House of Commons. In this context it is not prejorative (i.e. having a disparaging, derogatory, or belittling effect or force). In this context, the honourable member for Dewsbury’s comments can be perceived as insincere or deceitful. Given that around 57% voted to Leave in Dewsbury, and the town has a history of racial intolerance, it is not surprising. However, that is not to condone the vicious threats that have been made against MPs, including against Ms Sherriff. Instead there are strategies to minimize the impacts.

Strategies to minimize prejorative language or hate speech

I have some suggestions to minimize and diffuse the increasingly bad feeling in this country towards parliament, along with the increasingly polarized views. My concern is that this once great country is heading towards a quasi dictatorship, with fundamental questions of direction and ideology being put beyond democratic decision-making.

First, in terms of what is allowable in terms of speech, try to gain some objective standards. For instance, whilst Paula Sherriff objects to the word “betrayal” from the Prime Minister in relation to the biggest constitutional crisis in this country for decades she herself has used the word in relation to more trivial issues. The hard left in general, and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell in particular, have long used language that encourages highly predjudiced, even hatred, towards opponents.

Second is to substantiate one’s claims based on the real world, not on mass hearsay. Then be prepared to defend these claims, showing them superior against the alternatives. There is a long tradition of this principle in English Common Law with trial by jury. The onus there is on the prosecution to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt, with the defence able to challenge the allegations made. This is overseen by a judge, who tries to ensure a fair hearing to both sides, and will take a very dim view of any attempt to undermine that fairness. In this respect I do not believe that a case can be made for a no-deal Brexit being catastrophic disaster. Rather there are risks of transitional issues, which a competent government should be able to mostly mitigate by sound policy. Further a no-deal Brexit can open up new opportunities, which a government with vision and optimism can either exploit, or stand back and let entrpreneurs expolit them,

Third, is for MPs to respect the mandate that they were elected on. On most issues it is expected that MPs should employ some pragmatism. But where there is a complete about-face on the central issue of their political careers,there is a responsibility for those politicians to seek a new mandate. Distrust in the democratic process will only be increased if politicians do an about-face and spurn the opportunity to seek a new mandate. Severely marginalizing a great mass of the people is a sure way to get civil unrest and calls for authoritarian government.

Kevin Marshall

Time to enact the boundary changes for a more level playing field at next General Election

An outcome of the expenses scandal in 2009 both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had pledged in their 2010 manifestos to reduce the number of constituencies. The outcome was Schedule 2 of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, with the reduction from 650 to 600, along with a review to achieve more equal constituency sizes. The Boundary Comission published its initial recommendations in 2016, then, following extensive consultations, published revised recommendations in 2018. Given the historically low esteem with which the House of Commons is currently held, and the deadlock on the Brexit issue, perhaps there should be a coming together in the House of Commons to enact these changes to show that they can work together to produce a more level playing field in general elections. The main block on such changes is that greater fairness will lead to shifts in the makeup of Parliament.

2018 Review Changes by Region

The Boundary Commissions 2018 recommendations, published on 05/09/18 are spread across sites for Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. Using the results of the 2017 General Election I constructed a table to show the proposed constituency changes by region.

Figure 1 : Proposed Constituency Changes by Region. Additionally is an apportionment of the seats won by Conservative and Labour at GE 2017 on a national and regional basis. As the decrease smallest decreases in seat numbers tend to be in the regions where the Conservatives are stronger, GE 2017 fought on the new boundaries may have given the Conservatives an majority.

All regions will lose seats in the proposed boundary changes, but the proportionate changes vary considerably. Wales will lose over a quarter of its seats, going from 40 to 29 seats. At the other extreme, the South East, which is already the biggest region, will lose just one seat. The result of implementing the changes would make the average number per constituency across regions far more equal than currently. It should be noted that both Scotland and Wales will still have broadly the same representation per capita in Westminster as England, despite having devolved parliaments.

More detailed analysis from Electoral Calculus

The above gives a general high level impression. The Electoral Calculus website provides a far more detailed analysis through its “Make your Prediction” tool. I first plugged in the results of the 2017 election for the major parties based on the 2017 boundaries at regional level.

Figure 2: Electoral Calculus prediction for 2017 General Election based on 2017 boundaries. The Speaker is included in the Conservative Party Numbers

This fairly accurately produces the 2017 result at the top level with a hung parliament. The predictor slightly overstates the Labour seats, fails to predict any seats for Plaid Cymru and understates the Lib-Dem seats for the same reason. That is the support for the parties is more concentrated than the program allows. Plugging in the national results produces the prediction of a small Conservative majority, much for the same reason. The program does not properly allow for concentrated regional or local support.

More interesting is the prediction based on the 2018 boundaries with 600 seats.

Fig 3 : Electoral Calculus’s estimate of the 2017 General Election result against an estimate based on regional party vote share.

The detailed Electoral Calculus analysis predicts the Conservatives would have been just one short of a majority if the 2017 General Election has been fought on the 2018 600 seat boundaries, or two short if the Speaker is excluded. The national predictor shows a majority of 12. These figures are very similar to my rough estimates above, with a slight Conservative bias in top level forecasts. Given that both the main parties have seen losses of MPs, on these figures neither would see a large net loss of sitting MPs, provided that both Labour and Conservatives were in a similar position in the polls to 2017. However, this is not the case. Electoral Calculus, based on opinion polls from 03 Sep 2019 to 27 Sep 2019, predict a Conservative majority of 12. Plugging in the national vote shares into the predictor, I get a Conservative majority of 26. Using the 2018 Boundaries, with 600 seats the majority increases to 54. Conservative seat share rises from 52.5% to 54.0%, whilst Labours seat share falls from 32.6% to 30.8%. A more level playing field works in the Conservatives favour. However, the bias in the predictor means that the difference is likely smaller.

Fig 4 : Based on opinion polls from 03 Sep 2019 to 27 Sep 2019, Electoral Calculus national GE predictor based on current 650 seat parliameny and 2018 constituency boundaries

However, voting for fairer boundaries should not be based on immediate polling. One would hope that HM’s Official Opposition would have ambitions of winning and election in the future. What would be the impact of swapping the poll positions of Conservatives and Labour? Figure 5 does just that.


Fig 5 : Same assumptions as fig 4, with the exception that polling positions of Conservatives and Labour are reversed.

If the polling positions of Conservatives and Labour were reversed then the Labour Party would be in a similar position to under the existing system and under the 2018 constituency boundaries with 600 seats. This is however a likely scenario under the current circumstances. Allowing for a Conservative bias in the Electoral Calculus estimates, Labour would likely obtain an overall majority. If Conservative votes fell away, they would mostly go to the Brexit Party, whilst gains for Labour would come from the Liberal Democrats. In the final figure I also assume that the Brexit Party are up 5% and the Lib Dems down 5%.

Fig 6 : Same assumptions as fig 5, with the exception that Brexit Party are up 5% and Lib Dems down 5%.

This marginally improves Labour’s position at the expense of the Lib Dems, sufficient to gain a slim overall majority. Again, allowing for the Conservation bias in the figures, the majority would be less marginal.

The Labour party bias under the current boundaries

Although the Electoral Calculus figures have a slight Conservative bias, the Boundary Comission changes will favour the Conservatives over Labour. Figure 1 indicates part of the issue. In Wales, the North West and the North East are regions have both larger than average falls in the number of seats and where Labour have a clear majority of the seats. Conversely in the Eastern, East Midlands, South West and South East Regions have both much smaller than average falls in seat numbers and where the Conservatives have a clear majority of the seats. The current constituency boundaries have a Labour Party bias that will be rectified. I have created a couple of charts from the General Election 2017 results, one of which amplifies the current Labour bias in the voting figures.

Fig 7 : From the 2017 General Election results, bands of the percentage of valid votes gained by each party. The upper chart is the count of seats in each band. The lower chart shows the average constituency size.

In 2017, the Conservatives achieved at least 50% of the vote in 243 seats. For Labour it was 222 seats. The Conservatives gained 40-50% of the vote in 135 seats, winning 71. Labour gained 40-50% of the vote in 89 seats, winning 35. The problem for Labour is that their vote is more highly concentrated than the Conservatives. Thus they need a higher share of the national poll, on a uniform swing, to gain a parlimentary majority than the Conservatives under current boindaries. Put another way, on average the Conservatives gained 55.46% of the valid vote in the constituencies they won, whereas Labour gained 59.33%. Of course the greater spread of votes across constituencies works in the Conservatives favour in winning elections, but against them relatively if party support drops below 25%. Conversely the current boundaries work in Labour’s favour in the event of a poll collapse, but it is mostly due to their concentrated support.

The lower chart illustrates the problem for Labour from the boundary changes. Whereas the average constituency size where the Conservatives recieved > 50% of the vote in 2017 is 75,400, for Labour it is 70,500. Under the 600 seat Parliament, whereas the Conservatives would retain 243 such seats, Labour would expect to only recieve 208 seats, a loss of 14. For the seats gained with less than 50% of the vote the Conservatives would expect to go from 74 to 71, whilst Labour from 40 to 38. Thus in a 600 seat parliament the Conservatives would expect to have 314 seats, as against 317 seats in a 650 seat Parliament. Labour would go from 40.3% of the seats to 41.0% on the same rough calculation.

Finally, there is another paradox. Although, on average, Labour constituencies have a smaller electorate than Conservative ones, of the 31 seats with an electorate over 85,000, 14 are Labour. There are three Labour seats with over 90,000 voters – Bristol West, West Ham and Manchester Central. It is not an even picture across the country.

Concluding Remarks

It is now eight years since legislation was passed to reduce the number of constituencies from 650 to 600, along with making them more equal in size. Had the 2017 election been faught on this more level playing field it is most likely that the Conservatives would have been returned with a small majority rather than losing that majority. The impact of enacting the changes would be to counter the relative discrimination that much of the South and East of England has in general elections due to having larger average constituencies. Most of all it would be of benefit to those in the 31 constituencies with over 85,000 voters, listed below.

Fig 8 : The gemeral election 2017 results for the 31 constituencies with electorate of over 85,000.

Kevin Marshall

Is the Benn Surrender Act incompatible with Article 50?

Earlier this month the High Court of Justice in Northern Ireland published a judicial review from three applicants v the Prime Minister and others. Although not widely reported, it was commented on by Guido Fawkes, and the judgement itself is linked to by the website. It was a case of Remainers trying to derail Brexit by ever legal ruse they could think of. The Judge threw out all arguments, and saddled the applicants with all the costs.

One area covered in the judicial review is on Article 50, which I believe could be the basis of a legal challenge to the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, colloquially called the Benn Surrender Act. Quotes from the review are cited as by paragraph and page. E.g. (3):4 is paragraph 3, page 4.

Article 50

The review quotes Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union in full. 

Article 50 of this international treaty (the “TEU”) provides:

“(1) Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the
Union in accordance with its own constitutional
requirement.

(2) A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify
the European Council of its intention. In the light of the 12 guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future
relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent
of the European Parliament. 

(3) The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph (2), unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period. 

(4) For the purposes of paragraphs (2) and (3), the Member
of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it ….

(5) If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure 
referred to in Article 49.”

Article 49 makes provision for any European State applying to become a member of the EU. This contemplates a formal agreement between the Applicant State and the Member States.

Article 50 TEU Analysed

(55):46-47 

Certain aspects of Article 50 did not fall to be construed in either Miller or Wightman. Bearing in mind that the exercise is one of construing a measure of EU law, I consider that those aspects of Article 50 not addressed in either Miller or Wightman yield the following construction:

(i) First, there is no concept, meaning or definition of “negotiate” supporting the view that the clause beginning “… the Union shall negotiate … ” denotes a duty and exercise unilateral in nature. It takes two to tango. The concept of negotiation must surely be, depending on its context, something bilateral or multilateral in nature. This discrete element of Article 50(2) would be emptied of meaning and rendered nugatory if it is not to be construed thus.
(ii) There is no legal context known to this court which dictates that negotiations must culminate in a legally binding agreement between the negotiating parties. There is nothing in the text of Article 50 which displaces this proposition. Nor is there any identifiable basis or rationale for implying any different or contrary
construction.
(iii) Article 50(2) clearly establishes an imperative, namely a negotiated and concluded withdrawal agreement, without purporting to mandate that this occur.
(iv) Article 50(3) expressly contemplates the possibility that the negotiations required by Article 50(2) will not culminate in a withdrawal agreement.
(v) The plain aim of the two year period specified in Article 50(3) is the promotion of stability and certainty in the EU.
(vi) The provision made in Article 50(3) for consensual extension of the basic two year period is plainly designed to further the overarching imperative of a negotiated and concluded withdrawal agreement.

The Descisions in Wightman and Miller are covered respectively by (20-21): 15-16 and (22):16.

The first point dispells any claims that it only Britain that should negotiate, with the EU acting as immovable.

The second and third points dispel any notion that an agreement must be concluded as a condition of leaving the EU. The fourth point is that Article 50(3) possibility that a member state will exit without a deal.

The fifth and sixth points are relevent to the Benn Surrender Act. The two year noticification period is clearly for “the promotion of stability and certainty in the EU“. By implication any extension of the period is to achieve that aim. If a conclusion of a withdrawal agreement is not possible, as the parties are too divided, then a further extention is not justified. It would go against the spirit if Article 50 to use an extention as a means of punishing a member state for wanting to leave when such an extension is furthering a period of uncertainty and disrupting the normal business of the EU.

Further, the Surrender Act potentially impels the Prime Minister to submit a request to the EU to extend Article 50 until 31st January 2020.  Yet the same Parliament has on two occasions has failed to trigger a General Election to remove Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose declared central policy aim is to leave the EU on 31st October “do or die“. In so doing Parliament implicitly recognizes the authority of Prime Minister Johnson as the Head of State in the negotiation of international treaties. Parliament is therefore conflicted.

But most paradoxically, whilst Britain remains a member of the EU it is still bound by the Treaty of the European Union. The Surrender Act in compelling the Prime Minister to potentially request an extension of the withdrawal period for purposes other than negotiating a withdrawal agreement, and in causing continued disruption to the EU as a whole, and Britain as a member state in particular, are clearly going against the intent of Article 50(3) of the European Union. Parliament should be honest and revoke Article 50. However, although a majority could be achieved in both houses of parliament, there is no democratic mandate to do this. In other words the House of Commons in wanting to frustrate Brexit and to remain in the EU is potentially in breach of the clear intent of TEU Article 50(3), creating a clear constitutional mess in an EU member state, all to suppress the EU Referendum result for which the House of Commons has no democratic mandate.

Kevin Marshall

Cummings, Brexit and von Neumann

Over at Cliscep, Geoff Chambers has been reading some blog articles by Dominic Cummings, now senior advisor to PM Boris Johnson, and formerly the key figure behind the successful Vote Leave Campign in the 2016 EU Referendum. In a 2014 article on game theory Cummings demonstrates he has actually read the Von Neumann’s articles and seminal 1944 book “A Theory of Games and Economic Behavior” that he quotes. I am sure that he has drawn on secondary sources as well.
A key quote in the Cummings article is from Von Neumann’s 1928 paper.

‘Chess is not a game. Chess is a well-defined computation. You may not be able to work out the answers, but in theory there must be a solution, a right procedure in any position. Now, real games are not like that at all. Real life is not like that. Real life consists of bluffing, of little tactics of deception, of asking yourself what is the other man going to think I mean to do. And that is what games are about in my theory.’

Cummings states the paper

introduced the concept of the minimax: choose a strategy that minimises the possible maximum loss.

Neoclassical economics starts from the assumption of utlity maximisation based on everyone being in the same position and having the same optimal preferences. In relationships they are usually just suppliers and demanders, with both sides gaining. Game theory posits that there may be net are trade-offs in relationships, with possibilities of some parties gaining at the expense of others. What Von Neumann (and also Cummings) do not fully work out is a consequence of people bluffing. As they do not reveal preferences it is not possible to quantify the utility they receive. As such mathematics is only of use in working through hypothetical situations not for empirically working out optimal strategies in most real world sitautions. But the discipline imposed by laying out the problem on game theory is to recognize that opponents in the game both have different preferences and may be bluffing.

In my view one has to consider the situation of the various groups in the Brexit “game”.

The EU is a major player whose gains or losses from Brexit need to be considered. More important that the economic aspects (the loss of 15% of EU GDP; a huge net contributor to the EU budget and a growing economy when the EU as a whole is heading towards recession) is the loss face at having to compromise for a deal, or the political repurcussions of an Indpendent Britain being at least as successful as a member.

By coming out as the major national party of Remain the Liberal Democrats have doubled their popular support. However, in so doing they have taken an extreme position, which belies their traditional occupation of the centre ground in British politics. Further, in a hung Parliament it is unlikely that they would go into coalition with either the Conservatives or Labour.  The nationalist Plaid Cymru and SNP have similar positions. In a hung Parliament the SNP might go into coalition with Labour, but only on the condition of another Scottish Independance Referendum.

The Labour Party have a problem. Comparing Chris Hanretty’s estimated the referendum vote split for the 574 parliamentary constituencies in England and Wales for the EU Referendum with 2015 General Election Results, Labour seats are more deeply divided than the country as a whole. Whilst Labour held just 40% of the seats, they had just over half the 231 seats with a 60% or more Leave vote, and almost two-thirds of the 54 seats with a 60% or more Remain vote. Adding in the constituencies where Labour came second by a margin of less 12% if the vote, (the seats need to win a Parliamentary majority) I derived the following chart.

Tactically, Labour would have move towards a Leave position, but most of the MPs were very pro-Remain and a clear majority of Labour voters likely voted remain. Even in some Labour constituencies where the constituency as a whole voted Leave, a majority of Labour voters may voted Remain. Yet leading members of the current Labour leadership and a disproportionate number of the vast leadership are in very pro-Remain, London constituencies.

The Conservative-held seats had a less polarised in the spread of opinion. Whilst less than 30% of their 330 England and Wales voted >60% Leave, the vast majority voted Leave and very few were virulently pro-Remain.

But what does this tell us about a possible Dominic Cummings strategy in the past few weeks?

A major objective since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister and Cummings was appointed less than two months ago has been a drive to Leave the EU on 31st October. The strategy has been to challenge the EU to compromise on the Withdrawal Agreement to obtain a deal acceptable to the UK Parliament. Hilary Benn’s EU Surrender Act was passed to hamper the negotiating position of the Prime Minister, thus shielding the EU from either having to either compromise or being seen by the rest of the world as being instransigent against reasonable and friendly approaches. Also, it has been to force other parties, particularly Labour, to clarify where they stand. As a result, Labour seems to a clear Remain policy. In forcing the Brexit policy the Government have lost their Parliamentary majority. However, they have caused Jeremy Corbyn to conduct a complete about-turn on a General Election, called for an ummediate election, then twice turning down the opportunity to call one.

Back to the application of game theory to the current Brexit situation I believe there to be a number of possible options.

  1. Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU. The Lib Dem, Green, SNP amd Plaid Cymru position.
  2. Labour’s current option of negotiating a Withdrawal Agreement to liking, then hold a second referendum on leaving with Withdrawal Agreement or reamining in the EU. As I understand the current situation, the official Labour position would be to Remain, but members of a Labour Cabinet would be allowed a free vote. That is Labour would respect the EU Referendum result only very superficially, whilst not permitting to break away for the umbrella of EU institutions and dik tats.
  3. To leave on a Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by PM Boris Johnson and voted through Parliament.
  4. To leave the EU without a deal.
  5. To extend Article 50 indefinitely until the public opinion gets so fed up that it can be revoked.

Key to this is understanding the perspectives of all sides. For Labour (and many others in Parliament) the biggest expressed danger is a no-deal Brexit. This I believe is either a bluff on their part, or a failure to get a proper sense of proportion. This is illustrated by reading the worst case No Deal Yellowhammer Document (released today) as a prospective reality rather than a “brain storm” working paper as a basis for contingency planning. By imagining such situations, however unrealistic, action plans can be created to prevent the worst impacts should they arise. Posting maximum losses allows the impacts to be minimized. Governments usually kept such papers confidential precisely due to political opponents and journalists evaluating as them as credible scenarios which will not be mitigated against.

Labour’s biggest fear – and many others who have blocked Brexit – is of confronting the voters. This is especially due to telling Leave voters they were stupid for voting the way they did, or were taken in by lies. Although the country is evenly split between Leave and Remain supporting parties, the more divided nature of the Remainers is that the Conservatives will likely win a majority on around a third of the vote. Inputting yesterday’s YouGov/Times opinion poll results into in the Electoral Calculus User-Defined poll gives the Conservatives a 64 majority with just 32% of the vote.

I think when regional differences are taken into account the picture is slightly different. The SNP will likely end up with 50 seats, whilst Labour could lose seats to the Brexit Party in the North and maybe to the Lib Dems. If the Conservatives do not win a majority, the fifth scenario is most likely to play out.

In relation to Cummings and Game Theory, I would suggest that the game is still very much in play, with new moves to be made and further strategies to come into play. It is Cummings and other Government advisors who will be driving the game forward, with the Remainers being the blockers.

Kevin Marshall

Updated 29/09/19