The Treaties do not grant the EU the power to forbid post-Brexit Britain from having trade agreements

Article 3.1(e) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union grants the EU “exclusive competence” in relation to “common commercial policy”. Article 207(1) unpacks this:

The common commercial policy shall be based on uniform principles, particularly with regard to changes in tariff rates, the conclusion of tariff and trade agreements relating to trade in goods and services, and the commercial aspects of intellectual property, foreign direct investment, the achievement of uniformity in measures of liberalisation, export policy and measures to protect trade such as those to be taken in the event of dumping or subsidies. The common commercial policy shall be conducted in the context of the principles and objectives of the Union’s external action.

There is thus no doubt that the EU has the exclusive competence to conduct trade negotiations and enter into trade agreements regarding tariffs, regulations, intellectual property and so on. Member States cannot conduct their own bilateral negotiations or enter into their own agreements, except insofar as the EU itself can authorise Member States to enter into bilateral agreements (as, for example, in the case of the bilateral investment agreements covered by Regulation 1219/2012).

I have previously argued that this exclusive competence with respect to the trade agreements concerning trade between EU members (e.g. between the UK and Poland in 2014) cannot be understood as a claim to competence over trade agreements between non-EU members (e.g. between Australia and Israel in 2016, or between the UK and Australia in 2025).

Here, though, I want to emphasize a different point: The EU has no ability to form trade agreements that will apply to the UK and non-EU members post-Brexit. It therefore cannot have competence over that. A claim to “competence” where one has no ability is a claim to have a power to forbid. But the Treaty makes no mentioning of granting the EU any power to forbid the UK from having FTAs after it leaves the EU.

Suppose we’re at work and someone, let’s call him Bob, says: “It’s my job to check the electrics for the whole office – you’re not allowed to check your own sockets.” But then suppose my room is in a part of the office sealed off from the rest because I work on sensitive material that requires a security clearance Bob does not have and can never qualify for. Yet Bob still insists that it’s his job to check my sockets. That isn’t a claim, on Bob’s part, to have competence over checking my sockets in the security clearance area. It’s either a claim that access to my room isn’t allowed to require security clearance or that I’m forbidden from having my sockets checked.

The EU cannot enter into trade agreements with non-EU countries that the UK would be part of post-Brexit. It cannot make a deal that would apply only to the UK and exclude the rest, and any trade agreement it entered into for the whole EU28 would cease to apply to the UK once the UK left. Its position with respect to negotiating the UK’s post-Brexit trade agreements is like Bob’s inability to enter my office to check my sockets.

So, much like Bob, the EU cannot claim to have exclusive competency to do that which it has no power to do. All it can be claiming is either that the UK cannot leave (like Bob cannot be excluded from my room) or that the UK cannot have any negotiations conducted over its post-Brexit trade agreements (like I cannot have my sockets checked).

But the forbidding of trade negotiations being done and agreements being entered into is not an “exclusive competence” over them. To repeat: I cannot claim “competence” over that which I have no power to do myself. All I claim in that case is a power to forbid the thing from being done.

But do the EU Treaties grant the EU the power to forbid there from being any negotiations conducted or agreements made in respect of trade between former EU Member States and non-EU countries? Take a look. You will find no mention of such negotiations being forbidden.

The UK has not entered into a Treaty agreement with the EU that it should have no free trade agreements with any non-EU country after it leaves the EU. That simply isn’t a provision of any Treaty and neither is it an idea anyone in Britain would have accepted implicitly.

The EU can only claim competence over negotiations it itself has the power to conduct and agreements it has the power to conclude. It has no power to make trade agreements between the UK and non-EU countries post-Brexit. It therefore cannot claim exclusive competence over that question.

Post-script: If you think the answer to the above is that the EU has the power to grant, or not to grant, the UK power to conduct bilateral negotiations with non-EU countries that would only begin to apply post-Brexit, on the model of Regulation 1219/2012, since that is the way that trade deals for the UK’s immediate post-Brexit period could be done, the challenge then would be: “So when will the EU be doing that?”

Bad arguments and better arguments against CANZUK

I am an advocate of the concept of creating an EU-style union between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK, starting with a joint trade agreement, mutual free movement of persons and a new defence treaty, then building, gradually, ever-closer union thereafter. I have no fixed idea how far that could go. Perhaps, because the countries concerned begin so similar, we would find that, even with a limited partnership we naturally aligned our regulations, geopolitical ambitions and laws without needing to establish joint regulatory agencies or political institutions. On the other hand, it is also possible that, one day, decades hence, we would all decide it was best to establish a joint Parliament, central bank, currency and some kind of confederal-level civil service. I don’t want to pre-judge at this stage.

When I suggest this kind of idea, though many people instantly find it attractive, there are also, of course, critics. But the thing is that most of the objections critics offer instantly are very weak. I want to explain here why, and also to sketch what seems to me to be the actual key difficulty.

Here are some of the bad arguments. One is: “The EU economy’s bigger. Why would we leave the EU to establish a smaller economic grouping.” That’s a very weak argument for two key reasons. The most fundamental is that the UK is leaving the EU. That boat has sailed. Arguing that we ought not to have left the EU in order to join a smaller economic grouping is just wishing the past were different. We’re leaving the EU. The question now is what we should be seeking to do next. The second reason it’s weak is that the EU is not fundamentally an economic arrangement. It’s a geopolitical one. And in the same way the main motivation for CANZUK is not economic. It’s geopolitical. We don’t choose our major geopolitical partners purely on the basis of what the biggest economic grouping is. Otherwise we’d be applying to join the US, or to join with China.

A second bad argument is: “Opposing free movement with EU partners but favouring it with CANZUK is racist.” That makes no sense at all. What’s the idea? You’re saying we’re only favouring free movement with Australia because those that come might be blond and blue-eyed, whilst we opposed free movement with Germany and Poland because those that came were blond and blue-eyed? There’s no interesting racial difference between Britons and those from the rest of the EU (insofar as “racial difference” or “race” are meaningful ideas at all). It’s certainly the case that there are more people with mutual family ties – many Australians and New Zealanders have UK ancestors at no more than great grandfather level and in Canada it’s only a couple of generations more. Family connectedness and hence similarity in outlook, history, values and so on is certainly part of the CANZUK attraction. And there should be no apologising for that. Valuing similarity in culture, values, political institutions and history is not “racist”.

A third bad argument can be roughly summarised as “Empire, Empire, ho, ho, ho!” We’re not suggesting any form of resurrection of the British Empire. I wouldn’t even locate CANZUK’s organising institutions (the equivalent of the European Commission) in the UK. I’d probably put them in New Zealand. It’s not remotely about the UK dominating anyone else. And most of the Empire countries, such as India, definitely wouldn’t be in anyway. If the suggestion were for a new arrangement with the US, why would that be any less “rebuild the Empire”? It’s just a silly argument.

A fourth daft objection many British critics offer is “But people in [insert CANZ member state here] don’t want it.” No-one wants it yet – it’s a new idea! We’d never do anything new if we insisted that, before anything new was done, everybody already had to be in favour of the thing they’d never even heard of or considered. The presumption of this criticism appears to be that ordinary British voters can be assumed to be in favour but ordinary New Zealanders, Australians or Canadians wouldn’t be. I know of no evidence that ordinary Britons favour CANZUK any more than those elsewhere. My experience is that the main agitators for the scheme and the main media and academic interest comes from Canada.

The best objection isn’t that above. Neither is it any of the “It’s not practical” or “It wouldn’t work” or “It wouldn’t be big enough to be of mutual interest” type arguments. The real problem is this: CANZUK would very probably work so well and be so large and powerful that it could potentially, within perhaps as little as a hundred years, constitute a global challenger to the US. The US would find the prospect of a geopolitical equal with a land border to the US difficult to stomach. It hasn’t faced that situation since at least the 1820s and arguably has never faced that situation in its history.

We can therefore assume that the US, anticipating the success that CANZUK could be, would vigorously object – if not publicly at least privately – and attempt to derail the scheme early. So to get the scheme off the ground, politicians in the CANZUK countries would need to be willing to face down US opposition – potentially publicly. I think there’s a very real question as to whether there would be the will to do that.

It might be that the only way to get there would be to so animate CANZUK voters with the romance and practical potential of the idea that they would force their politicians to overcome US opposition. But another possibility is that, if we build from a modest foundation in trade, free movement and defence cooperation, the US would find little it could initially object to. If and when later integration steps seemed attractive, the Rubicon might already have been cross and US objections might be too late.

That’s all a way off, yet, though. For now, we need to stick to getting the concept into the public and political consciousness and debate.

A question for Islam: Do you provide a credible route for the debauched to be saved without violence?

In this post I shall raise a question – one of very great general political significance. I shall not be answering it. There are few things I dislike more than non-Muslims pontificating on what “Islam really says” and on whether this or that doctrine (head-covering, say, or FGM) is really a “requirement of Islam” or only a “cultural practice”. (One of those few things is non-Christians purporting to tell me what “the Bible really says” about, say, homosexuality or women priests.)

Here’s the issue. It is frequently noted that a significant portion of those that claim to commit acts of terrorist violence in the name of Islam are what one might call “bad Muslims”. They had a had history of drink or drug problems. They had had multiple sexual partners and treated them badly. They had rarely attended mosque. They had had a string of convictions for petty theft or similar crimes.

The implication often drawn is that this suggests their claims to be inspired by Islamic belief and doctrine to commit their crimes is dubious. More probably, the thought goes, these are really social losers manipulated by others throughout their lives – whether by peer pressure into drugs, by gang friends into petty crime, or by IS recruiters into acts of violence. Or perhaps they are really people who are committing “suicide by cop” and terrorism creates a thin ideological gloss to their self-destructive despair.

I’m not wanting to downplay either of these interpretations. On the contrary, I’m sure there is a lot in them. But I wonder if they miss something. The presumption of this sort of story seems to be that, just because someone is a “bad Muslim”, that means he or she does not really believe in the truth of Islam. But need that be so? Mightn’t it, instead, in at least some cases, be that “bad Muslims” absolutely do believe in the doctrines of Islam, and in particular believe that the consequence of their being “bad Muslims” is going to Eternal Damnation?

If I’ve done some bad things, and think the consequence will be Hell unless I turn my life around, but I also know that I am basically an ill-disciplined loser and will not be able to behave well enough, over a sufficiently sustained period of time, to even out the balance of my past bad deeds in whatever life I have left, what do I do then? If I really believe eternal damnation beckons, mightn’t I be pretty desperate and possibly open to listening to the seductive tale of someone who says that I can cancel every wicked thing I’ve done out with one “heroic” (we might prefer the term “barbaric”) act? Couldn’t it be precisely because these people are both true believers and “bad Muslims” that they conclude that paths of violence are their only way forward?

I’m not saying that mainstream Islam has no answer to this. To repeat, I’m raising a question. But I wonder whether mainstream Islam has been successful in advertising whatever answer it has to this question sufficiently widely. My speculation is that many relatively poorly educated Muslims who (as with relatively poorly educated followers of other religions) have only a fairly sketchy grasp of the finer details of their faith would, indeed, believe the kind of thing I sketch above.

Something to think about, anyway…

Immigration needs to be controlled by the UK government post-Brexit, but not necessarily reduced

Consider the following two near-identical statements.

A. For many years in the run-up to the EU referendum, the EU was (rightly or wrongly) blamed for excessive regulation, creating costs and other burdens for UK businesses. The vast majority of those leaving the EU assumed that if we left, the UK government would regulate less than the EU has done in the past. Therefore, given the result of the Brexit vote, it is not enough that the UK government simply assume control and responsibility for regulation, defending the decisions it makes (whether for more or less regulation in the past) and being voted out of office if it fails to keep its promises. More than that: the UK government is politically and morally obliged to ensure that there is much less regulation in the future.

B. For many years in the run-up to the EU referendum, the EU was (rightly or wrongly) blamed for excessive immigration, creating costs and other burdens for UK public services and broader society. The vast majority of those leaving the EU assumed that if we left, the UK government would allow less immigration than the EU has done in the past. Therefore, given the result of the Brexit vote, it is not enough that the UK government simply assume control and responsibility for immigration, defending the decisions it makes (whether for more or less immigration in the past) and being voted out of office if it fails to keep its promises. More than that: the UK government is politically and morally obliged to ensure that there is much less immigration in the future.

For some reason, the British political debate at present assumes that B is true and A is false. Why? Is it disputed in some way that most British voters have (rightly or wrongly) come to believe that the EU is a source of excessive regulatory burdens? Is it in any doubt that most of those voting to leave the EU would have assumed that leaving the EU meant less regulation? So why does A not follow?

I think the reason is that UK politicians have not made extensive promises about reducing regulatory burdens concerning which, when they didn’t meet them, they blamed the EU for the failure. The reason folk think B is different is because UK politicians have made promises they couldn’t meet. That is, in my view, the key reason why immigration became an issue so entangled with the EU. Voters perceived failed promises on immigration as an everyday demonstration of what “lost sovereignty” meant in practice and a concrete illustration of how being in the EU meant voters could not hold their own politicians to account.

It by no means follows from this that Brexit means politicians will now need to keep promises they made, back in the pre-Brexit past when those promises were cheap and unenforceable. Indeed, it seems to me to be ridiculous to expect that. We might criticize Nick Clegg for promising no tuition fees rises when he had the luxury of assuming he’d never have to keep those promises. But it would be absurd to suggest that things didn’t need to be re-thought once he actually had to make a choice as to what to do.

One of the key merits of Brexit, with respect to immigration, will be that, because politicians will subsequently have the power to keep their immigration promises, those promises will have to change. Moving to a situation where politicians actually have to do it must, surely, mean reviewing promises made.

It would, for example, be ridiculous to design the UK’s post-Brexit global political and economic relations, which may affect the country (and indeed the world) for the next 40 years, on the basis that, whatever we do, we have to keep immigration below 100,000 because that was promised in the 2015 General Election when no-one thought it was a promise the government might actually have the power to keep.

Brexit changes everything. In particular, it should lead to a re-set of the government’s policies and promises with respect to immigration. The government having control of immigration and being accountable for that control probably will mean less net immigration, at least for a few years, than there was in the period 2010-2015. But cutting the numbers is not the point of taking control, any more than cutting regulation is the point of the UK government being in charge of that.

We should choose our relationship with the EU based on the relationships we want with others, not t’other way around

Britain is leaving the EU. I’ve identified various options for what we should seek to do next. A common reaction I’ve encountered is along the lines of “We can’t get into thinking about what relationships we have with non-EU countries until we’ve resolved what new relationship we’re going to have with the EU”. I want to convince you that that’s wrong. And not just a bit wrong: dangerously, Brexit merit-destroyingly wrong.

Those who tell you that we must first resolve our relationship with the EU are telling you that that must be our most important geopolitical relationship, the one that all other relationships are constrained, the defining and central one. But that was a key proposition of the Remain campaign – that Britain’s place in the world had to be defined by our entanglement with our EU partners. That notion – that the EU should get to define and constrain us, was what we rejected by voting Leave.

That doesn’t mean we should have no relationship with the EU. It certainly doesn’t mean we should seek to cut ourselves off from or fall out with the EU. Indeed, it doesn’t even mean, in principle, that our relationship with the EU might not, in the end, be our single most important geopolitical partnership (without being defining or constraining) – though I wouldn’t want that to be the outcome, the British political process and voters might ultimately choose it.

But we should reject the idea of baking that in to the Brexit process. The relationship we should seek to have with the EU should depend upon what relationships we want to have with other non-EU countries. We cannot work out what we want to do with the EU until we’ve worked out at least what non-EU arrangements we’d be trying for.

Let me illustrate the point with an example I don’t think will happen – to illustrate that I’m making a point of principle rather than something that depends upon a particular non-EU geopolitical arrangement I might have in mind. Suppose that the UK decided that, post-Brexit, we wanted to set up a customs union with the US regarding motor cars. That would mean that motor cars would be exported and imported tariff-free between the US and UK but anyone else exporting to the US or UK would face a single tariff determined jointly by the US and UK.

We wouldn’t be able to set up such a customs union with the US if we had already agreed to tariff-free trade in motor vehicles with the remaining EU. If we first agreed to tariff-free trade in motor vehicles with the remaining EU, that would prevent us from establishing a customs union with the US. The relationship with the EU would define what other geopolitical arrangements we could enter into. But we don’t want to be constrained at this stage. What we want is to work out first what new deals we might want to do with non-EU countries and only then work out, on the basis of these other deals or potential deals, what discretion there remained for us to do new deals with the EU.

The insistence that our EU deal must be worked out first is an attempt to cling on to our EU partnership, as closely as British politics allows post-referendum. If we accept that, we will constrain ourselves, potentially ending up with nothing more than the same sort of constraints we faced as EU members but with less explicit involvement in EU decision-making.

We’re not leaving the EU in order to have a relationship with the EU. We’re leaving the EU in order to do something else. What we need to be doing now is debating what we want or hope that “something else” to be.

How much should we be willing to pay for the ‘Glory of Rome?’

[This is a blog I had published on Telegraph blogs (now no longer maintained) on 24 August 2014.]

In a recent blog post I compared an estimated cost for mitigating climate change with an estimate someone had made of the cost of terraforming Mars. Obviously there was a tongue-in-cheek aspect to the comparison, since – although I suspect they were both rather low – the climate change example was at least moderately mainstream and worked through, while the terraforming Mars estimation was highly speculative and very much at the low end. The coincidence between them was too much fun to resist. But while it is a common party game of space buffs to ask “how would you terraform Mars for a few trillion dollars?”, and there is a burgeoning speculative literature for low-cost Martian terraforming schemes (building on the tradition of Lovelock’s scheme in Allaby & Lovelock’s 1984 book The Greening of Mars), there is obviously a high likelihood that even for practicable low-cost schemes (if someone produced one), the actual costs would be more like trillions per year for centuries than a few trillions spread over centuries.

Nonetheless, it remains absolutely the case that mainstream scientists do believe that terraforming Mars is within the reach of our civilisation – both in terms of the technology required and the resources we would have to achieve it. And amid the mischief, my piece raised two questions that I would like to explore further. First: How important is it for our civilisation to have epic-scale goals? Second: How much of our resources should we be willing to devote to the achieving of those goals?

I say: our civilisation needs epic-scale goals. What do I mean by that? I mean “the Glory of Rome”, the French mission civilisatrice, the British imperial notion that it brought engineering and law or the other British imperial notion that it allowed for the educating of the ignorant and their introduction to True Religion and Virtue. The Egyptians built their pyramids and the mediaeval Europeans their cathedrals to express their commitment to their epic religious goals. But what goals does our decadent, pleasures-focused culture have?

When there is want and misery and oppression, humans are much clearer about their purposes. When we are under threat of destruction – as in the Cold War, say – necessity grants us purpose. But when our lives are fairly comfortable and we do not expect to disappear tomorrow, things are much more difficult.

One thing we have tended to do is to invent ourselves new threats – the Millennium Bug, bird flu, SARS, dinosaur-killing meteors. The threat from global warming, though real and important enough even in its own terms, is psychologically tempting to exaggerate for this reason – we find it comforting to be under epic threat because then we know more clearly why we get up in the morning. Similarly, for many people the idea that humanity – or at least Western civilisation – might be united in a common purpose of the struggle against out-of-control climate change adds a seductive element to the story.

If we are not to fall prone to inventing terrors to grant ourselves a purpose, we must find some positive purpose instead. Some might like to suggest religious objectives and there have indeed been times in the past (e.g. the mid-19th century British Empire) where religious objectives were central unifying cultural goals. But there are other alternatives. The Portuguese in the 15th century sought to discover if (as they suspected) Africa had a southernmost extent and, if it did, to find a sea route to India. Exploration and adventure are among the grandest, most unifying and least controversial of objectives.

But how much of our resources should we be willing to devote, and over what timescale?

Through history, civilisations have devoted large proportions of their output to their main goals: religious buildings, religious ceremonies, military ventures, voyages of discovery, great monuments. They did that even when their problems of disease and hunger were vastly greater than ours. As someone once said, responding to the criticism that resources devoted to a religious purpose could better have been spent on the poor: “The poor you will always have with you”. Civilisation cannot be simply a matter of allocating resources to those things that get us through to tomorrow. If some goal is truly meaningful, it is worth making sacrifices for. We see the sacrifices that the enemies of Western Civilisation make and the sacrifices that our own forefathers made. Should we not be willing to do the same for the goals we think important to our civilisation?

Let’s turn that thought into numbers. The Great Pyramid at Giza is generally reckoned to have been built by approximately 20,000 men working for around 20 years. The population of ancient Egypt at the time was around 2 million. If we assume the workforce was around half the population, so one million, that means those 20,000 workers constituted around 2 per cent of the workforce of Egypt. They were probably at least as high in terms of productivity as the average Egyptian worker, given how systematic the pyramid project was, and the pyramid project was probably at least as capital intensive as the average project. Therefore, we can reasonably assume that those 20,000 workers constituted at least 2 per cent of Egyptian GDP. Total world output was around $72 trillion in 2012. So if we devoted the same proportion each year to some key goal of our civilisation that we thought as important as the Egyptians thought the Great Pyramid, that would imply us spending around $1.5 trillion per year upon it. Arguably since we are much richer today than the ancient Egyptians, we should be willing to devote a larger proportion of our resources to such projects.

Over what timescale? In medieval Europe, the average life expectancy was around 30. The Portuguese started their attempt to round Africa in 1419, and got there in 1498 – some 79 years or 2.6 times the average life expectancy at the time. The current life expectancy for developed countries is 80. So if we were willing to spend as long on a project, relative to our lives, as the Portuguese spent rounding Africa, we would be willing to spend around 210 years.

These approximate thought experiments suggest that we should be willing to spend more than $1.5 trillion per year for more than 200 years on the epic goals of our civilisation. So what’s it going to be, then?

Of course the UK can agree trade deals now that will apply post-Brexit

There is a rather peculiar discussion going on at present. The EU has competence over making trade agreements with non-EU countries for the EU. Individual member states aren’t permitted to enter their own separate negotiations or cut their own individual deals. That is not in dispute.

One might have thought it equally obvious that the EU does not have competence over making trade agreements between non-EU members. For example, the EU does not have competence over trade agreements Australia might make with, say, Israel, to commence in 2020, assuming that neither Australia nor Israel will be a EU member at that point.

But for some reason this appears not to be obvious to some people. They suggest that the UK is not able to enter into its own agreements that will begin to apply only after the UK has left the EU. The idea appears to be that the EU has competence over trade negotiations even when those trade negotiations apply to a period when the UK is not in the EU.

Common sense would suggest that, regardless of what any document might say, that can’t really be the intention and it certainly shouldn’t be something the UK should contemplate accepting for a moment. The idea is absurd. What business is it of the EU what trade agreements the UK has after it leaves the EU? And what a silly idea, that anyone in the UK would really deliberately have agreed to allow the EU to prevent the UK entering into trade agreements that will apply only after the UK leaves the EU! If someone thinks that was the correct way to interpret a Treaty, that person has misinterpreted it.

This isn’t a matter of “refusing to abide by our Treaty obligations”. No-one sensible should accept that that was really a Treaty obligation in the first place. The only conceivable purpose for such a provision would be to make life difficult for someone choosing to leave the EU by trying to make them agree that in the period immediately afterwards they would have no trade agreements. Well, if that was the idea we won’t be doing that. We should leave via Article 50, rather than simply repealing the European Communities Act, insofar as doing so is sensible and polite and reflects good will on all sides. If someone attempts to stop us from negotiating post-Brexit trade deals, that would bring into question whether we were really best to proceed via Article 50 at all.

Let common sense prevail. Obviously we can’t have any new trade agreements apply to a period when we are EU members. But equally obviously we can’t allow the EU to stop us from making agreements with non-EU countries that will apply after we have left the EU. Everyone needs to accept, right now, that that’s just not going to happen.

Forget Blair – the real questions about Iraq should be addressed to Major and Clinton

The media persists in its epic decade-long missing of the point on Iraq. I’ve explained before why we invaded Iraq. By 2001-3, and Prime Minister worth his salt would have done as Blair did and authorized British participation. The media persists in stupid questions about whether Blair was too supportive of George Bush or whether the Attorney General was given all the necessary information about the war’s “legality” or whether Blair’s internal processes provided enough scrutiny of intelligence evidence about Iraqi WMD.

Irrelevant! Whilst you spend your time on that nonsense you miss the point. As I’ve explained – and as is blatantly obvious to anyone who was there at the time – we invaded Iraq in 2003 because we believed Saddam Hussein had spent the previous decade defying us – attempting to build nuclear and chemical weapons plus a super-gun to fire them – and, in the post-9/11 world, we could not allow him to carry on defying us. Why would Blair have seriously questioned the intelligence evidence he was presented with about Iraqi WMD when it was simply confirming what we had all seen on our television screens several nights per week for the previous decade. Remember the weapons inspectors being stopped at the gates, and the talking heads on the television explaining that those things being taken away in the background of the televisions pictures appeared to be parts for nuclear enrichment? Virtually every government in the world officially confirmed in a UN resolution (Resolution 1441) that it believed Iraq had continued to attempt to build WMD despite armistice terms (including in particular UN Resolution 687) in which it had promised not to.

The problem with the Iraq invasion is that it appears that that basic premise – which would have both justified and made inevitable the 2003 invasion from any UK Prime Minister, whether he also believed stuff about “45 minutes” or not – was false.

It’s not altogether certain. After all, some 5,000 chemical weapons were found in Iraq during the occupation. But there is at least a strong case to be made that Saddam was not all that seriously in violation of the armistice terms from the First Gulf War during the late 1990s. Certainly he did some things – like his preposterous super-gun, which the British political establishment was deeply aware of through the Matrix Churchill affair. But lots of governments around the world do some things we don’t like. The question was whether Saddam was so clearly top of the list that we could not credibly deal with anyone else (e.g. Gaddafi) until we had dealt with him.

But once we see that it was the decade-long belief that Saddam was not complying with his armistice terms that led to the 2003 invasion, we should grasp that the 2003 invasion itself was not the only consequence of that belief. Two other very significant consequences should immediately leap out at us: there were sanctions on Iraq precisely because of that same belief – sanctions estimated to have led to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths – and there was repeated punitive bombing of Iraq, of which the most significant episode was in 1998. Indeed, in 1998 President Bill Clinton even signed the Iraq Liberation Act.

But sanctions on Iraq were not initiated or (for many of the years they were in effect, with as I say the consequence of hundreds of thousands of deaths, not to mention the impoverishment of a huge and initially fairly wealthy country) maintained by George W Bush or Tony Blair. And the 1998 bombings were not authorized by George W Bush.

Sanctions were maintained, from the mid-1990s on, after the period we now believe Saddam was broadly compliant, by John Major and Bill Clinton. And it was Clinton who was the US President during the 1998 bombings. It was under Major and Clinton that the story of Iraqi non-compliance with UN sanctions began. It was under them that the intelligence services told us Iraq was still trying to build WMD. It was Major and Clinton that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people with sanctions. It was the failings of their intelligence services that meant that by the time Bush and Blair were considering the matter there was never going to be any result in Iraq other than invasion, after the events of 9/11.

So why is it always George W Bush and Tony Blair we put in the dock over Iraq, attacking their character or their scrutiny of intelligence evidence, and never John Major or Bill Clinton?

What is wrong with Theresa May’s position – The short version

The UK should guarantee, immediately, that any EU citizen legally resident in the UK on June 23rd will have indefinite leave to remain and work in the UK post-Brexit. Theresa May refuses to do this, saying that must be negotiated bearing in mind UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU.
By taking this stance, May signals two appalling things.
1) That she thinks our wonderful, kind friends and allies in the rest of the EU might consider ejecting UK citizens if they don’t get something in exchange for not doing so. That is a shameful smear.
2) The UK might, under some circumstance, consider ejecting millions of EU citizens resident here. Monstrous.
She needs to back down.