Sunny Saturday Morning

IMG_2217It’s one thing to discuss the technicalities of Brexit but there’s nothing like standing in a High Street and talking to people.  Before the day slips from my mind I thought I’d write a few short reflections.

Our weather hasn’t shown much sign of Spring but on Saturday it was almost as if the heavens were smiling on us.  Sunshine brought lots of people out for a stroll, shopping and much else.  It’s so rewarding working with a likeminded team.  A cross-Party group of us met-up in the centre of the Surrey town of Dorking.  Determined to show that there’s a movement for change.

I approach leafleting with a smile and a greeting – would you like a leaflet?  It works.  Yes, one or two people don’t want to be bothered or smile back but that’s normal.  Who knows what’s going on in the lives of those you meet by chance on a Saturday morning.  Being respectful is essential.  First impressions matter so much.  With a badge, some stickers and colleagues around we made it clear that we were campaigning on Europe.  What we find is that the politeness and civility of most people reminds me that there’s a lot worth fighting for in Britain.

On Saturday, I’d guess no more than 1 in 20 of those I leafleted presented a negative view of what we were doing.  From them, not one original new saying came up.  Responses were mostly stock phrases, like: “We’ve voted once” or “I want out” or “the sooner we get out the better”.   Not the basis for conversation.  Generally street campaigning isn’t about arguing with people.  At its best, its more about connecting with supporters and offering information to those with an open mind.

I did engage with one guy who thought one vote was enough.  My counter argument was the fact that we vote every year in local elections and democracy is open to people changing their minds.  Much as I expected, he wasn’t moved by this way of thinking.   With a small minority there’s a kind of belligerence.  Its true of other life situations too.  Pride or stubbornness or absolute blind conviction means that little real discussion is possible.  The strange thing is often we spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about people who behave this way.

Without a shadow of doubt there’s a strong demand for a vote of the deal.  A clear majority of people we meet in Dorking want to have a choice over the Brexit deal.

The call for a #PeoplesVote is gaining momentum.  Lots support the @peoplesvote_uk campaign for the people to have the final say over the #Brexit deal, not politicians.

Wake up the sentinels

When I half remember good advice, it drives me to do a bit of research.  This week, watching all the questions being asked of Facebook, I couldn’t help but recall something I’d read more than 30 years ago.  Yes, going back that far does have relevance because fundamental questions are exactly that; fundamental.

It seems every time technology advances the law follows but several steps behind.  That’s law makers and those who sit in judgement trying to interpret tomes of law need to speed up.  It was starkly apparent to me that Facebook was getting an easy ride, as questioning politicians struggled to keep up.  Few question hit the mark or even attempted to look ahead.

For me, as for many, even research can’t be conducted without a heavy reliance on technology.  So, I searched with the fragments of what I’d remembered.  Typing into Google’s almighty search engine the two words “sleeping sentinels” because that’s what I thought was the name of a book.

Initially, I didn’t find what I wanted but what I did find was intriguing.  I wasn’t previously aware of the story of the “sleeping sentinel”.  A Union Army soldier during the American Civil War.  He fell asleep whilst on duty, was court-martialled and sentenced to be executed.  Harsh treatment indeed.  But after his death sentence was read, a pardon was read thus saving his life.  Lincoln had interceded on Scott’s behalf.

In this tale there’s an indication of the awakening of the idea of a “just culture”.  Today, people with safety related work are expected to report such a case as; falling asleep on the job due to fatigue.  In a “just culture” they should not be punished if others can learn from their experience.

I digress, since my aim was to rediscover an almost forgotten book on law.  Eventually, I came to a reference to a book called: “The Slumbering Sentinels: Law and Human Rights in the Wake of Technology”[1].  This was the paperback I remembered.

One of the tenants of the book is that the law is sleeping while technology is racing ahead.  Clear insight from the 1970s and 80s trying to consider the implications of personal commuters and alike.

Equally important to the case of understanding Social Media is the changing landscape of political campaigning.  Its only now that everyone is discovering the details of what happened in June 2016 in the UK.

Its Friday 13th and the news media is full of conflict and tension, but I hope this material gets well discussed.  It does amount to finding out, after the event, hugely significant facts about the referendum of 2016.

To quote: “192. If the Commission indeed refrains from even exercising a discretion as to whether to refer a matter to the police or prosecuting authorities until it is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that an offence has been committed, this in our view would constitute an unlawful fetter on its regulatory discretion.”

What a dilemma.  If the Electoral Commission, police or prosecuting authorities do not respond then they are indeed Slumbering Sentinels.

If they do respond, the case could be made for invalidating the 2016 referendum.  To reassure them, as I have been saying in this article, they will not be the first to wake-up while technology is racing ahead.  It’s difficult to foresee how technology will be misused in the future especially when money is no object.  That said, we can’t ignore the facts.

[1] The Slumbering Sentinels: Law and Human Rights in the Wake of Technology (Pelican) Paperback – November 24, 1983 by C. G. Weeramantry


Representative Democracy

It remains remarkable to me that the Government’s stated position on Brexit is: “The British people voted to leave, and the Government will implement their decision. The vote on the final deal will give Parliament the choice to accept the agreement or leave the EU with no agreement.”

A debate will take place in Parliament on Monday, 30 April 2018[1].  This is the result of a petition with over 100,000 votes, that reads: “Parliament’s vote on the Brexit deal must include an option to remain in the EU.”

I wonder how long this Conservative luddite[2] approach to political decision-making will continue.  It’s almost without parallel that a weak British executive such seek to bully a sovereign Parliament into a cul-de-sac.  So, utterly desperate are the current Conservative Party to save the Conservative Party that they resort to attempting to ride rough shod over the British constitution.

Edmund Burke would be turning in his grave.  He’s often considered as an authoritative source for modern Conservative views.  I’ll quote him from a speech to the electors of the City of Bristol on 3 November 1774[3].

“Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole.”

It’s clear that, given evidence that Brexit is not in the general good it should be rejected.  I believe, a general reasoned free debate in Parliament will surely show that Brexit, deal or no-deal, is not for the general good of the nation.  Thus, MPs must have the opportunity to vote for an option to remain in the EU.  This is not a time to smash up our representative Parliamentary democracy.  It’s a time to reinforce it.







Our right to a referendum

I have just read “Why a second Brexit referendum is required by law” and find the arguments made in this article compelling[1].

It’s basically saying, any proposed future EU treaty that transfers areas of power, or competences, should be subject to a referendum on that treaty.  The ‘referendum locks’ introduced in sections 2, 3 and 6 of The European Union Act 2011 (EUA) form part of a broader system of control over the making of various decisions related to the EU[2].

The exit agreement that’s being negotiated by Government Ministers will, if successful result in a future UK-EU treaty.  Thus, it follows that that treaty should be subject to a referendum.  That’s not a referendum about staying in the EU or leaving it, but a referendum on the final treaty that deals with the powers and competences of the EU in relation to the UK post the leaving date.  Since there will be a transition period we know that there will be legal obligations to be met by both UK and EU.

I hope, I have understood this situation correctly as it seems eminently logical.  The EUA remains in place to date.  The reasons for the EUA being made law in the first place remain valid.  As this is the case a referendum on the “deal” is thus required by UK law. To change this the Government of the day would have to repeal this EUA and as a result take away any direct say the British people may have over a final deal and transition period.

It’s not a simple passive matter of something lapsing.  Being of 2011, it’s not an out-of-date law.  A repeal of the EUA would be an active and wilful disenfranchisement of the British people.  Quite the extreme opposite of “take back control”.  More a question of we (Conservative Government) have control and there’s no way we will let the people have a say.   Even to the extent of changing the law to stop a referendum taking place.





Aviation & Brexit 5

You might ask what’s a “Statutory Instrument”?  Well, in the United Kingdom they are a key form of delegated or secondary legislation.  That’s distinct from Primary legislation, which in the case of civil aviation is the Civil Aviation Act 1982[1].   Part III of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 calls for an Air Navigation Order (ANO).

The latest UK Air Navigation Order (ANO) 2016[2] is a Statutory Instrument.  The UK ANO forms the legal basis for many areas of civil aviation that are regulated at a national level.  In effect, it gives the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is powers and its responsibilities.

The UK ANO is amended from time to time to provide the links between European legislation and national legislation.  This Statutory Instrument needs to reflect the general details of the civil aviation regulatory framework that’s expected to work.

It’s well worth remembering that, unlike the USA, the European civil aviation system is not a federal system.  To work effectively, it needs the common European part and the national part to work together harmoniously.  That has been achieved with remarkable results.  It has been an achievement that has enabled great efficiency, a fertile environment for international commercial success and safety improvement.

Taking one example in the filed of aircraft airworthiness.  Today, “certification” is defined as meaning: any form of recognition that a product, part or appliance, organisation or person complies with the applicable requirements including the provisions of this Order (ANO) or the Basic EASA Regulation and its implementing rules, as well as the issue of any certificate attesting to such compliance.

If Brexit happens many choices are open to the legislator.  That’s the Government and Parliament in the UK.  One would be to maintain links to the Basic EASA Regulation.  Another would be to delete all references to the Basic EASA Regulation and reference an alternative new text.  Naturally, there are numerous combinations and permutations that can be imagined.  Whatever happens the resulting new Statutory Instrument(s) will need to comply with existing international obligation namely; the Chicago Convention.

Here I’ve described a great deal of detailed work and no doubt its sitting on someone’s desk.  Above I referred to “certification” but that’s just one aspect of a much wider range of aviation activities.  Clearly, its one where errors and omissions are likely to be costly to industry and ultimately the traveling public.  Normally, consultation and deliberations on significant legislative changes take place over many years.  Thus, it’s reasonable to be concerned about what might happen over the coming year.  Simple this is not.





Aviation & Brexit 4

I must say, I feel more positive about the prospects for the UK’s continuing participation in the workings of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).  Yes, we (UK) remain mired in uncertainty.  Yes, it’s the non-transport politicians who are making the running and yes, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.  But at least a good deal of serious consideration is being given to possible scenarios for a post-Brexit world.

Top of everybody’s list in aviation is that the UK should continue its membership of EASA[1], at least for the much-discussed transition period or implemention period as it might better be called.  Although this does mean losing voting rights and the opportunity for Directorships to be taken up by Brits, there’s enough advantages to keep the wings of aviation flying.

In the European aviation system, one of the key committees established by European law, often called the EASA “Basic Regulation” is the: EASA Committee.  This is a high-level committee that handles: “common safety rules in the field of civil aviation”.  Now, the Agency’s rulemaking procedure is such that it submits its formal technical opinions to the decision-making process of the European Commission, which is, in effect, the EASA Committee.  So, to influence future European aviation rules it’s important to be present and able to speak at the meetings of this key committee.

The examples of Norway and Switzerland show that non-EU Countries can exercise a degree of technical influence at this level.  In fact, this is not surprising since much of that which is taken forward requires a high degree of consensus to work in an integrated system.  Also, both Norway and Switzerland are represented on the EASA Management Board[2].  Which is reasonable because they both make financial and staffing contributions to the Agency.

I think, Switzerland shows a way forward.  Not for reasons that the Country is like the UK.  After all, it’s smaller, it’s federal, speaks many languages and we don’t have the Alps.  On the other hand, Switzerland, like the UK has a manufacture that depends on access to a global marketplace and is well connected to around the world.  Also, in recent times, their federal aviation authority has been progressive in the field of aviation safety management.

There’s a chance of reaching Brexit day with no clear vision of the future but having a basic contingency is better than nothing.   Naturally, I would rather see the UK play a full part in European aviation as it has with great success in past decades.  Sitting in the second row at the table isn’t the best place for a Country with our incredible heritage.   There’s no barrier to being European and being Global even if there’s a block in the minds of some Westminster politicians.  As the joke about being lost and asking directions goes: “I wouldn’t start from here, Sir”.





Aviation & Brexit 2

On the road to the Brexit many questions remain unanswered.  I’m writing this article responding to several assertions that I’ve seen made in the social media world.  On aviation, here I’d like to add my perspective given that the subject is not straightforward or simple.

The European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA has a membership that extends beyond the EU Member States.  International cooperation has been a key activity of the European Commission and EASA since its establishment.  This is quite rational and reasonable given that civil aviation is one of the most international businesses in the world.  One role EASA has is to promote European and worldwide standards.   Its long been recognised that regulatory fragmentation has a detrimental impact on all aspect of civil aviation, including safety.

The EU has written agreements with many Countries[1].  There are working arrangement, bilateral agreements, memorandums of understanding and examples of technical cooperation.  Four non-EU European States are EASA Member States.  If a Country is not an EASA Member States it is called a “Third Country”.  This term is significant because it’s used extensively in existing European aviation legislation.

In 2006, Switzerland become a member of the EASA. It was the fourth non-EU country to adopt EU aviation safety legislation after Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.  These four non-EU countries are represented in the Agency’s Management Board and their nationals are eligible to work for the Agency in Cologne.

Reports suggest that the door to EASA membership is open to the UK.  This proposal of Agency membership is greatly favoured by industry bodies and many of the UK’s international partners.  The benefits are notable, and it does provide for a degree of continuity for an industry where long-term planning is essential.  The traveling public would benefit from that continuity too.

An integrated aviation safety system in Europe isn’t just an abstract concept, it’s a reality.  We learn from each other’s experiences and that learning is fed directly into day-to-day aircraft operations.  Its not hyperbole to say that Europe is the most advanced aviation region in the world.

The UK’s history is one where we have made immensely significant contributions to the development of aviation safety regulation in Europe.  In my view the benefits of continuing along this road outweigh, by a huge margin any speculative benefits of regulatory divergence.

Over the next year, negotiations will address the detailed agreement to describe the way forward for UK-EU civil aviation.  Building on our positive achievements would seem to be the wisest and safest course of action.



Wrong turn

Let’s be clear.  Brexit is built on a fantasy.  It’s a massive disruption aimed at the wrong target.

Yes, we know the world has changed since the formation of the European community.  Yes, we know China and India are growing more rapidly than Europe.  Yes, we know no one likes the language of rules and regulations.   But to use these three as reasons for unilateral separation from our nearest neighbours is as likely to succeed as a five-year-old is to master quantum physics.

Global connectivity, interaction and interdependence are growing.  Like it or not, no one Country is going to be able to halt social and technical “progress” unless its willing to make its people poorer.  There’s always the dark ages option.

Sure, this makes people like me, over 50, uncomfortable and romantically starry eyed about so called simpler times.  My career started in the pre-digital world where computers were filing cabinet sized number crunchers only States and big companies could afford.  Today, with talk of Artificial Intelligence not as science fiction but as science fact, its hard to know what will happen next.

For these reasons, and more major institutions need a radical shift in gear.  It doesn’t matter if they are international, regional, national, city, town or village we need to do business differently.

So, where Brexit pits one against another it’s a hundred percent wrong.

Uncertain rules

Simon Whalley’s[1] analysis shows that there’s a lot that remains uncertain.  Even with the UK exploring the terms on which the UK could remain part of the European Aviation Safety Agency [EASA] there is no assurance of success.  If an accommodation is achieved there’s still the thorny problem of being subject to rules that will be put in place without a UK vote for or against.

It might be that the undeclared strategic aim of the UK Government is to diverge from the European framework of rules.  That would make EASA membership a transitional arrangement.

Given my experience, I’m forced to look at the evolving situation as the past gone into reverse.  In the 1990s we were slowly but surely moving away from British Civil Airworthiness Requirements (BCARs) towards European ones as being organised by the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA).  This progressive movement, of over more than a decade, created the stepping stones that made EASA possible.  If we put all that into administrative reverse it will take a couple of decades to get to a situation of greater autonomy.  Even that will not mean absolute control given the UK’s obligations within the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the large number of bilateral agreement that will need to be put in place to replace the European ones.

I don’t deny that divergence may have one or two benefits.  However, I will agree that the costs of divergence far exceed any of the potential benefits or, at least, that is the experience of the past.

Take the case where there is a major fatal accident of a civil aircraft on British soil.  Post-accident, there is the potential to change aviation rules faster if the only consideration is a domestic outcome.   Divergence will then certainly then arise quite rapidly.  What can be bad about that?  Well, there are a couple of issues.  Rapid rule changes can be highly politically driven running the risk that the true nature of a technical problem is not addressed.  Also, given the extremely rare occurrence of fatal accidents there’s a lot to be gained from aggregating information.  If all energy and effort is focused on national problems much can be missed.  In other words, the accident that others have maybe the accident you have tomorrow, if you don’t pay attention.

Pro-Brexit reporters have commented; if Australia and New Zealand can do it why can’t we?  That is; to not have an empowered regional organisation addressing aviation.  Also, such remarks have been addressed about the Gulf States.  Look at these large aircraft operators and they don’t have an EASA, do they?

The truth is complex.  A lot of these simple analogies don’t stand up to scrutiny.  In fact, at international level more and more regional groupings are being established and recognised by ICAO.  Also, the highly integrated and interconnected nature of design, production, maintenance and operations in Europe does mean we are not like any other global region.

Although we (UK) are in reverse gear let’s hope that a handbrake turn takes place before we hit the barrier.



PM at a lectern

IMG_1846The much-billed speech on Britain’s future relationship with the EU is out.  Prime Minister, Theresa May stood at a lectern and read a winding text that dipped into the live subjects of the moment.  Watching a recording of her big speech was like watching an Open University seminar.  Last year, to appease her Party, Theresa May used the slogan: Brexit means Brexit.  This has gone.  Many of the costs of leaving the European Union were addressed.  There was little, if anything about the benefits of leaving.

So, if Brexit happens here are a few of the troublesome problems seeking solutions.

There’s a positive recognition that a “level playing field” is essential for an EU-UK relationship to be sustainable.  The devil is in the detail and on that front much remains to be discovered.

She continues to say that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is ruled out of deciding disputes between EU-UK.  Its clear that the ECJ plays a part but what part is yet to be determined.

The Prime Minister stressed the importance of a good deal on the flow of “data” between EU and UK.  This aspiration makes good sense if only a whole new way of working didn’t have to be set-up in one year.

She accepts that people will still want to work and study in EU countries.  However, there’s no clarity on how such movement will be relatively easy.

Looking at ways the UK could remain part of some EU Agencies is to be welcomed.  However, our membership will be inferior to the 27 EU Member States in the three mentioned: the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, and the European Aviation Safety Agency.

Divergence from the EU on Agriculture seems inevitable.  Its assumed that the maintenance of high standards continues to be the UK’s goal.  An assumption like this could get traded away in the need for a future deal with Countries like the US.

The Prime Minister suggested that she wants to remain part of the science and innovation framework programmes.  There will be a major cost to this objective.

Overall, I would quote Benjamin Franklin: “Necessity never made a good bargain.”  The UK needs a good deal, but it will be inferior to membership of the EU.  May’s speech is well crafted as political theatre.  She has got people feeling good about accepting an inferior situation.