Regulatory Freedom

Not for the first time a Conservative Minister[1] under pressure was asked to defend Brexit and the answer they gave was: “regulatory freedom.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? But it isn’t often that an audience is given the opportunity to critically assess what it means. So, let’s explore what those two words mean in the context of Brexit. Naturally, it’s highly political given that the word “freedom” is used to imply that a freedom has been acquired that was once was denied.

There are two basic points that come to mind.

  • One: European Member States work together to make new laws and regulations. The UK was highly influential in shaping European policy, laws, and regulation. The UK Parliament once kept a close eye on the progress of the significant developments in Europe, and
  • Two: For all the time of the UK’s membership of the EU, most of our laws and regulations were made by the UK. Since the Member States hadn’t given the EU the competence to act of defence, crime, welfare, direct taxation, national security, and health, for example.

It is sad that Conservative Ministers continue to lie about these facts. Honestly, with 6-years under our belts since the referendum, you would think that a senior British politician would have no need to lie about such matters.

I expect Minister Jacob Rees-Moog[2] is, at this moment documenting the ways in which this myth can be perpetuated. What would be even sadder than sad is if the motivation to change British laws and regulations was just to be different for the sake of difference.

The UK Government has established a Brexit Opportunities Unit[3]. Again, with 6-years under our belts since the referendum, you would imagine that whatever opportunities there are they would be well known by now. Reading the published 4-page report on regulatory-reforms it is thin to say the least.

The face palm[4] I had when reading one line talking about reviewing restrictions on selling in pounds and ounces was a massive one. Did we really go though all that pain for something so trivial? Please don’t answer that question.






Without wishing to sound too much “told you so”, looking back on what I’ve written here over the last 5-years, it’s evident that a lot of it was on the money. Overall, the experience of the last 5-years has diminished our national prosperity and damaged reputations.

There’s a number of central points that shine through the fog. 

For a start, Brexit was not just one event which when delivered would bring an end to decades of introspection about Britain’s place in the world. If anything, the subject is higher on the agenda than it has been for a long time. All twists and turns are analysed in terms of – where are we going?

The underlying theme of the recent years has been to try to restore an imagined past. For some people this is an imperial role. It’s a lamenting of a time when the school map was red with the British empire.  This is, in part, a culture war like that played out by Trump in his term in office in the United States. Instead of applying the immense variety of our heritage as a solid foundation it’s being weaponised. 

Political deception has been fuelled by an age of ubiquitous social media. When so much information, true and false, is pumped out every moment, opinions eclipse facts more frequently than in the past. The louder the incessant shouting, the more money backing the campaigns, the more likely the result impacts policy and decision making.   

Perpetual uncertainty is now expected. Any deals, agreements or working arrangements, however magnificent, are viewed as moments that pass. The traditional phrase “my word is my bond” has no meaning amongst a large band of politicians. Maybe this is a tactical chasing of public opinion data that’s pushed aside any strategic thinking. 

The question can be asked: was all this inevitable? Would it have happened in one form or another even if the referendum vote of June 2016 had gone a different way? On this one, I’m pessimistic.  The idea that a public vote won or lost by a very small margin puts a subject to bed for all time is childish, to say the least.  Such votes are an indication of something deeper.

Yet again our technology speeds ahead of us, far exceeding our ability to cope with it. Both our salvation and our prison warden, we can articulate grander visions but are tied by primitive instincts. 

In my view this is the great merit of social liberal politics. The need for balance. The need for fairness. Instead of letting the libertarian monster out of the bag or denying our human frailties, taking them both into the mix is far wiser than our current destructive course.   

A British politician once said all political careers end in failure. That failure can be avoided, like a mature sports personality, stepping down at the optimal time. For Prime Minister Johnson, all indications are that he’ll crash the ship of state rather than change direction.  Let’s hope the choice is taken from him by a change made by the public. The humble voter.

Flight, Risk & Reflections 10.

Today, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ran a European Union (EU) exit webinar for aircraft Maintenance Organisations (Part-145)[1].  Negotiations between the UK and the EU on aviation safety requirements continue.  This series of UK CAA hosted webinars is to update civil aviation on what the UK may look like from 1st January 2021. 

It’s worth noting that the Chair of the UK Civil Aviation Authority, Sir Stephen Hillier[2] will be on a Royal Aeronautical Society webinar on the 19th November 2020.  Questions and comments on Brexit are sure to come up. It’s clear the UK will leave Europe’s aviation safety regulator at end of 2020.

I’m writing at a moment when the News is again sounding pessimistic about the UK-EU negotiations. The time remaining on the clock for a possible deal is running out. Once a final legal text is agreed there are still numerous parties who must read it and take it all in. 

In England, until 2 December businesses are in lockdown routine. Everyone is doing what they can to stop the spread of coronavirus. The time left to change how businesses operate and adapt to a new UK-EU relationship is ebbing away rapidly. 

Even in November, because of COVID-19 we are being told to open windows regularly to let fresh air in. One hope is that they are doing this in the rooms where the UK-EU negotiations are taking place. 

In a recent speech former UK Prime Minister (PM) John Major pointed out that Brexit set to be “more brutal than anyone expected”[3].  It doesn’t take much to see why. Given that the referendum vote was back in June 2016 it’s astonishing that UK-EU negotiations are not wrapped up by now.

My impression is that a referendum and the subsequent General Elections have put our entire political system into perpetual campaigning mode. The problem is that Governing mode and campaigning mode are not good bedfellows.  At this moment that clash is being played out inside Number 10 Downing Street. 

I’d like to sound optimistic but there’s more dismantling going on than building.  It’s easier to smash up the house than it is to build a new one.  




No Mandate

There’s no mandate whatsoever for a No Deal Brexit[1].  None.  Having the false assertion out there, and so widespread that this is a great danger to our democracy.  Pushing forward with a policy based on a lie, that everyone can see is normally the preserve of dictatorships and communist regimes.

The new British Foreign Secretary Mr Raab has been speaking falsely.  The new UK Government has no mandate for a No Deal Brexit.  In fact, there would be no need to blame the European Union (EU), as Mr Raab has started to do if there was a true mandate for a No Deal Brexit.

Before the 2016 EU referendum, the lead Leave vote campaigners were saying that the UK would be mad to leave the European Single Market.  That European market that Britain had fought so hard to establish.  They were explicitly proposing a Norway-type deal and stating that getting such a deal would be quick and easy.  Leave vote campaigners sold Brexit on the basis that there was little risk as we held all the cards in any negotiations.   It doesn’t take long to survey the archives of British media from 2016 to understand just how far we have drifted from reality.  There’s an abundance of recorded evidence.  There’s no mandate for a No Deal Brexit.

If we move to the UK General Election of 2017, I don’t recall a No Deal Brexit being part of the last Conservative Party manifesto.  Yes, there was a commitment to negotiate a Brexit deal but not to give-up and walk away.

Now, I can hear a Brexiter saying but it’s the “default” position.  This word “default” is somehow used to justify what is in truth an active policy choice.  The UK Government has the power to stop a No Deal Brexit right up to the moment before it happens.  Unfortunately, at the moment, Johnson’s new Government does not have the will or the common sense to do so.

The lie that there is a mandate is likely to be sustained by the Johnson Government because it’s the only way they can justify “turbocharging” the preparation for No Deal Brexit planning.  Essentially that means throwing billions of taxpayers’ money at something they can’t define, and most people don’t want.

This morning the British Foreign Secretary told the big fib on BBC Radio 4.  It’s recorded and the rest of the world listening knows it’s a fib.  So, why would anyone take talk of any future negotiations seriously having heard his radio interview?

Also, let’s remember that the British Foreign Secretary who says the UK will do a No Deal Brexit on 31 October 2019 if the “undemocratic backstop” isn’t scrapped, is the same Mr Raab who was a Brexit Secretary.  Whatever happened to the The Ministerial Code?

Our sad state of affairs will leave us wandering in the wilderness for many years to come.  There’s an alternative.   Stop Brexit by a simple act of revoking Article 50[2].  Eat the humble pie and save Britain.  Action now.

[1] #NoDealBrexit

[2] #RevokeA50

Aviation & Brexit 90

Minister Michael Gove says the UK Government is “working on the assumption” that the United Kingdom (UK) will leave the European Union (EU) without a deal on Thursday, 31 October 2019.  A huge No-Deal Brexit public information campaign is on the way.  This doesn’t much change the facts on the ground, but it does put a bright red flag up to the whole Country and beyond.  There are denials that a UK General Election is on the way.  At the same time the new UK Government appears to be on an election footing.  Now, the architects of the Leave campaign in the 2016 referendum hold power in the UK.  It’s reasonable to ask; how on earth did we get to this point?

If you didn’t see the BBC documentary on the Brexit Crisis[1], I can thoroughly recommend it.  You can watch it on the BBC iPlayer.  It objectively tells the story of the Brexit negotiations, from behind the scenes on both sides.  The programme is not about aviation but that subject, just like 101 others is caught up in the incomprehensible political maelstrom that is Brexit.

As I write here, opinion polls give the new UK Government a slight bounce.  Those who say; “let’s just get it over with”, do seem to be getting a degree of support.  However, this feeling people may have, is very far from reality.  Those who think that a No Deal Brexit would at least be a way of moving on are wrong in every possible way.  It just means that after the 31 October there will be the beginning of a whole new round of painful negotiation and general frustration.

For a moment then I’ll assume the new British Prime Minister (PM) pushes through all the opposition to deliver a No Deal Brexit.  By any international measure this will be an indication of failure that other nations will observer and draw appropriate conclusions.  Putting aside domestic considerations, it’s irrelevant who may or may not be to blame for such an outcome.  It’s a failure.

In that international context; how long will it take for the UK and EU to come back to a close, cordial and stable relationship?  Initially, temporary measures, continuing uncertainty and periodic instability will undoubtedly prevail.  Using the past as an indicator, I will estimate at least a decade of competition, division and turmoil are likely.  That takes us up to 2030.

Certainly, by that time a great number of the people who voted to Leave the EU in 2016 will no longer be with us.  In fact, most people will have forgotten what all the fuss was about.  Much as few people can describe Suez, the humble pie and the bill[2].  But there will be humble pie and a bill.

If Brexit happens, in the coming decade, I am sure Scotland will become an independent nation.  The future of Ireland is less easy to predict.  The pound sterling will decline further as we sell more of the family silver.  UK’s ability to act on the global stage will be more dependent upon America.

This week, the new British PM talked of sunny uplands that would make Britain the best place in the world by 2050.   That’s an aspiration we can all share but the direction we are going in isn’t the one that will deliver success.   How long will it be before the new PM echoes one of his predecessors of 60 years ago and says: “You’ve never has it so good[3]”.

Personally, I hope I’m not writing these blogs in my 90s.  Still, you never know.


[2] 1959 and The Anglo-Egyptian agreement

[3] UK Prime Minister MacMillan in the 1960s

Aviation & Brexit 81

It’s about a month ago since I last wrote.  This has been a busy month.  European Parliamentary elections took place on Thursday in the UK.  The results of those elections will not be known until late on Sunday.  A long process of local and regional counting will take up most of Sunday.  What it will mean in the UK is still unclear but at least these were real votes in real ballot boxes.   The outcome of which should be a sound indication of the current public mood.

The UK is now in the position where if it ratifies the existing EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement (WA) before 31 October 2019, an EU withdrawal will take place on the first day of the month following the completion of the ratification procedures.  However, there are no signs that national ratification is on the cards.  The UK’s two largest political parties have given-up on negotiations to come to a compromise on Brexit.  This should be no surprise since a deal between the Conservatives and Labour would still have to pass the through a grid-locked House of Commons (HoC).  A compromise involving the UK staying in a Customs Union (CU) is more than the hard core Brexit supporting Conservatives can accept.  Now, as if the above wasn’t enough, the UK’s Prime Minister is stepping down.  A starting gun has been fired on a that leadership race and it’s unlikely to be helpful to any potential political compromise.

The Brexit stasis continues to have a pressing and disruptive impact on the aviation and travel industries.  Recently, the travel firm Thomas Cook reported a £1.5bn loss for the first half of the year[1].  Behind this were several factors but one of the bigger ones was potential customers putting off their summer holiday plans.

With Brexit delayed until later this year, the UK is exporting people.  Now record numbers are applying for Irish passports[2] and that may give a boost to aviation in Ireland.  As an indicator, I’ve had a conversation with a person prepared to relocate his businesses if Brexit remains unresolved.

In the technical regulation arena, the objective would seem to be to maintain as much continuity as possible[3].   Our international rules-based system assumes that Countries will work together to improve conductivity.   But the situation remains fluid between the UK and EU, and there are still big questions to answer before we reach 1 November 2019.

The power-play going on between US and China is not a good background in which to continue with the uncertainty of Brexit.   The UK should be defending multilateralism in this situation.  A choice needs to be made since the UK’s aviation future need not shift from an influential rule-maker into a rule-taker.  In this region, retaining membership of EU Agencies, like EASA remains a viable option.

Brexit is now in a go / no-go position.  I’m more of the opinion that the project must be terminated and quickly.  Even if it is not, close alignment with the EU still has major benefits.   Is there the political vision in the UK to steer Brexit to a conclusion?  It’s going to be well into July 2019 before we even have a hint as to the answer to that question.   3-years since the UK referendum and its only uncertainty that is certain.





Brexit & Aviation 78

The political cartoonists are having a field day.  Brexit is giving them so much ammunition.  There’s never been a more fertile time for creative portraits of the ridiculous antics of politicians.  Every metaphor you can think of has been tried at least once.  For me a picture of headless chickens just about sums it up.  UK MPs have had the chance to identifying a way forward but keep coming back to stalemate.

Unfortunately, that leaves the worst-case scenarios still on the table in law.  The worst-case being a No-Deal Brexit outcome.  Study after study[1][2] shows that a No-Deal Brexit threatens to put the aviation and aerospace sector at a significant competitive disadvantage in the UK.  Failure to secure a sound Brexit deal that maintains a good strategic partnership will cause significant supply chain and investment problems.  We must remember that an aircraft may have over 4 million parts. These components come from all over the world to be integrated into a product.

Although some politicians remain in denial this should not come as any surprise.  For one, the EU’s Single Market has over 500 million customers and an economy over 5-times bigger than the UK’s.  Before 2016, the Single Market was often championed by the UK because it made it easier and cheaper for UK companies to sell their products.  Now, we are in the Brexit Twilight Zone[3] there’s a pretence that these facts don’t matter.

In a sad way, it’s ironic that many voted for Brexit and leaving the EU in June 2016 with a view to protecting their jobs in fear of globalisation.  Now, UK jobs will be lost as it’s clear that the civil aviation and aerospace sector is entrenched in the EU.  Miltary spending alone can not support the thriving sector we have come to take for granted.

In a recent statement, the European Commission said: “A No-Deal scenario on 12 April is now a likely scenario”.   A “disorderly” Brexit by accident is still avoidable but it may mean a UK General Election or a further referendum, and if there was a long extension, there maybe participation in the 2019 European elections due to take place between 23-26 May 2019.  Since there’s still no coherent strategy coming from the UK Government, I suspect a long extension is inevitable.  The possiblity of a so called #flextension is already built-in to the existing treaty.  This could be agreed until say; 31 December 2019.   Such an extension could be shortened only if both sides agree.  That would be time enough to work up a coherent strategy with a workable majority in the UK Parliament.   

Update: Now the UK Prime Minister is seeking a further extension from the EU to delay Brexit until 30 June 2019.  So, that’s the starting position with an aim to try to aviod European elections being needed in the UK.  





Another week gone

Last week, I wrote: “I think, the UK House of Commons is likly to reject Prime Minister May’s Deal next Tuesday.  Then on Wednesday it’s likly to reject a No-Deal outcome to Brexit.”  Both have come true.  Now, with the vote planned for today, an extension to the Art. 50 process is possible.  The drama that is being played out is very much a Westminster drama.  Once upon a time we depended upon the BBC’s Eastenders for high drama and suspense but not any more.

Parliament is deadlocked.  It’s abundantly clear, that there is no majority for the PM’s deal.  Bringing that deal back to the Commons a 3rd or 4th time won’t change the situation.  There needs to be a way to break the deadlock.

It was said to me that what we need is an alien invassion to get people to lift up their eyes and consider the big picture.  Whereas the Westminster Parliament was once seen as a example to the world, it no longer holds that position.  The UK’s Brexit drama needs to come to a final conclusion.

My view is that the best way is to revoke Art. 50 and set aside Brexit.  There’s nothing to stop the debate returning again in a couple of decades but this current phase of increasing instability needs to be brought to an end.

There is likly to be dramatic changes to British politics but these have been long overdue.  This domestic change is not a matter for the EU.  We need to get our house in order.  That means a big realignment.


Tonight, MPs have voted to extend Brexit beyond 29 March by backing a Government motion forced on PM Theresa May by the Commons.  Thus we can expect new legislation to come forward to change the Brexit date in UK law.  Also, a request will have to be made to the European Union (EU) to make this happen.

Stuck in a deep dark sinkhole

Here’s a cut and paste of an e-mail that just turned up in my mail box.  It’s worth copying just to show how deep the current problems are in the UK.  In reading it must be remembered that a referendum is not binding in the UK.  What’s here is the policy of one Government or even one part of one Government.

Dear ,

The Government has responded to the petition you signed – “Revoke Art.50 if there is no Brexit plan by the 25 of February”.

Government responded:  The Government’s policy is not to revoke Article 50. Instead, we continue to work with Parliament to deliver a deal that ensures we leave the European Union, as planned, on March 29th.  Revoking Article 50 would not respect the vote of the British people in the 2016 referendum.

Almost three quarters of the electorate took part in the referendum and 17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union. This is the highest number of votes cast for anything in UK electoral history and the biggest democratic mandate for a course of action ever directed at any UK Government. This result was then overwhelmingly confirmed by Parliament, who voted with clear and convincing majorities in both of its Houses for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act. Then, in the 2017 General Election, over 80% of people then also voted for parties committing to respect the result of the referendum and it was the stated policy of both major parties that the decision of the people would be respected.

This Government has therefore been given a clear mandate to implement the will expressed by the electorate in the referendum, and to revoke Article 50 would undermine that mandate.  As it is the responsibility of this Government to deliver the exit that people voted for, and as Parliament is clear that it does not wish to deliver a ‘no deal’, we must secure a deal. However, the Government recognises the views expressed by the House that it cannot support the deal as it currently is, and we are now confident that a deal with changes to the backstop, combined with measures to address concerns over Parliament’s role in the negotiation of the future relationship and commitments on workers’ rights will secure the majority needed in the House to leave the EU with a deal.

The Prime Minister has therefore continued to work with Members across the House to deliver on the decision that the British people took in June 2016 and she will go back to Brussels to secure a deal this House can support.

Department for Exiting the European Union

To comment:

In reference to the words; “biggest democratic mandate” and “given a clear mandate” this is not the case.  A mandate comes from the majority and, as we all know the majority by which the Leave vote won the referendum was a relatively small one.

The term; “respect the result of the referendum” has become meaningless since it has been used to mean more than 101 different things to millions of people across Britain. It’s not known what the result of the referendum indicated in any detail since there was no plan for the outcome.

The reason that Art. 50 may not be revoked is said to be that this week the UK’s PM will go back to the EU in Brussels and secure a deal the UK Parliament can support.  The chance of this outcome being secured in the last 5 weeks that have to run on the clock is tiny.  The political balances within the UK Parliament favour those who wish to see the UK crash out of the EU without a deal.

Finally, the Goverement department making this public statement of policy was created for one purpose.  It would be strange if it answered differently from that above given such a bias.


People’s Vote in Epsom

IMG_6372 (2)A good way of judging what’s perception and what’s reality to stand on a street corner campaigning for what you believe in.  This Saturday morning, with a cold wind blowing but sunshine in the sky a group of us stood in the centre of the Surrey town of Epsom.  It’s a well to do town with levels of prosperity that parts of England would love to share.   Being connected to London there are major service industries that ensure Epsom flourishes.  Its not just Derby Day.

The Brexit deal on the table provides no clarity or certainty about the future.  The signs are that Brexit will become a never-ending nightmare if we go through with it.  However, it’s both evidence and emotion that shape our view of the world and no more so than with Brexit.

Regardless of political views, in a public place there are people who engage and there are those that don’t.  On a British High Street in winter, most are busying themselves about their business and are not keen to dwell.  It’s more often that those with stronger views are the ones who take the time to engage in conversation.  My approach is to try not to impede anyone but to make it clear that I’d like to talk.  It’s easier with a leaflet in hand and a simple introduction.  So, I start: “we’re campaign for a People’s Vote – Would you like a leaflet”?  Then it’s a question of quickly gauging any response.  As a flavour of the comebacks that I got here are a few sentences on what happened.

Those who welcomed our campaigning efforts were more than happy to express a view.  A positive warmth and support came to the fore without prompting.  Frequently, there was an astonishment that the Country had got itself into such a ridiculous situation.   Everyone has a story to tell about how Brexit is affecting their lives.  Younger people were concerned that opportunities previous generations had will be cut off.

I got a warm answer from a French woman, but as she whispered – I don’t have a vote.

One middle-aged man seemed sullenly pragmatic about the affair.  His expectations were so low that he anticipated nothing better than an unholy mess.  He was grateful to see us campaigning, but he held out little hope that it would make any difference.  It’s a pessimism and sad resignation that more than a few must feel.

One guy suggested that I go back to Germany if I liked the Europe so much.  When faced with this, politeness is the only way to be.  There’s little I can say in that moment to transform his outlook.  Little Englanders are not new.

I got a couple that told me they were bored with the whole subject.  They had gone past caring what happens next.  It’s like it’s not my problem and another version of the sad resignation I mentioned earlier.

Believe me, I am not being biased when I say this, but the angrier people are Leave supporters.  It’s like they have an inner rage.  One or two will swear without any provocation whatsoever other than just seeing a European symbol.   All you hear is negative slogans right out of the Daily Mail.

Overall, the hours we spent were productive and I’m sure we offered a hope for those with a positive assessment of our role in Europe.  The indication was masses of dots on our chart calling for a People’s Vote.   Concluding, it’s clear that the last couple of years have not healed the wounds of the referendum.  Opinion on the streets is just as divided as it was when I was campaigning in early 2016.  No wonder Parliament is divided when the Country is divided.  It’s only by going back to the people that there will be any resolution to this impasse.