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For Britain ‘soft Brexit’ is the worst of all worlds

The proposal Britain should adopt a ‘soft Brexit’ would leave Britain an economic vassal of the EU exactly analogous to Ukraine. In reality it is desired neither by the EU nor the leaderships of the two major parties in Britain. The only issue is to negotiate the transitional arrangements leading to ‘hard Brexit’.

Alexander Mercouris

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One inevitable consequence of the British general election is that the unexpectedly strong showing of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has brought encouragement to those in Britain who claim to want ‘soft Brexit’ but who in reality want no Brexit at all.

To be clear, there is no possibility of Brexit not happening.  I have already explained that the leaderships of both the Conservative and Labour Parties are now fully committed to Brexit, and that Labour’s unexpectedly strong showing in the election was partly due to Jeremy Corbyn’s success in persuading pro-Brexit Labour voting working class voters that the cause of Brexit is safe with him.  By contrast the two parties that continue to support the EU – the Liberal Democrats and the SNP – both lost votes.

It is also fair to point out that Jeremy Corbyn has a much longer history of criticism and opposition to the EU than Theresa May – even though both voted Remain in the Brexit referendum – and that the Brexit Labour advocated during the election in its manifesto is essentially as ‘hard’ as the one advocated by Theresa May.

As to what a ‘hard Brexit’ means, the short answer is that it means Britain’s complete exit from the EU’s institutions, including the Single European Market, which in turn means that Britain would no longer be subject to the body of EU law – the so-called acquis – which is regulated by the European Court of Justice.

That is the only Brexit that makes sense, and irrespective of whether or not Jeremy Corbyn eventually becomes Prime Minister it is the only Brexit that can happen.

To explain let me refer to an article I wrote two years on the subject of the association agreement between the EU and Ukraine.  Here is what I said about it

Most people believe the [association] agreement is intended to create a free trade area between the EU and Ukraine.

It is easy to understand why people think this since that is what the Association Agreement itself says in Article 25:

“The Parties shall progressively establish a free trade area over a transitional period of maximum 10 years starting from the entry into force of this Agreement, in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement and in conformity with Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 (hereinafter referred to as ‘GATT 1994’).”

Establishing “a free trade area” (in the commonly-understood meaning of that term) between the EU and Ukraine is not however what the Association Agreement actually does.

At almost a thousand pages, the text of the Association Agreement is extremely long and uses convoluted and technical language.

This is intentional. The text has been deliberately made much longer and far more technical than it needs to be, precisely so as to confuse people.

It is certainly far longer and much more complex and technical than it would need to be if its purpose really was merely to create a free trade area. Here by comparison is the text of the EU Association Agreement with Chile. This too purports to be a free trade agreement between the EU and Chile.

Reading the two documents side by side, the similarities are obvious; but so are the differences. The Association Agreement with Ukraine is much longer and far more technical and complex.

What the EU officials who drew up the document have done is take a standard form of the Association Agreement the EU routinely uses when it negotiates free trade agreements with non-EU countries and graft onto it something completely different.

So what does the Ukraine EU Association Agreement actually do?

What it does is require Ukraine to adopt the whole body of EU law as it affects regulation of its economy.

EU officials call this body of EU law the acquis. Those with the time and inclination to read through the document will see this word appears constantly throughout the text.

The key omnibus provision is Article 56, in the section that deals with removing “technical barriers to trade”:

“2. With a view to reaching these objectives, Ukraine shall, in line with the timetable in Annex III [to this Agreement]: (i) incorporate the relevant EU acquis into the legislation of Ukraine.”

Since Ukraine is committing itself to make the acquis its law, it is surrendering regulation of its economy to the EU in Brussels. Questions of regulation of Ukraine’s economy will no longer be decided by the Ukrainian government and parliament in Kiev, but by the European Council and the EU Commission in Brussels.

Moreover what the EU decides will have the force of law. This is made quite clear by the single most important paragraph in the entire document (buried on page 187):

 “Article 322

Dispute settlement relating to regulatory approximation

The procedures set out in this Article shall apply to disputes relating to the interpretation and application of obligations contained in relating to regulatory or legislative approximation contained in Chapter 3 (Technical Barriers to Trade), Chapter 4 ( Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures), Chapter 6 (Services, Establishment and Electronic Commerce) and Chapter 8 (Public Procurement) [of this Agreement].

Where a dispute raises a question of interpretation of an act of the institutions of the European Union, the arbitration tribunal shall not decide the question, but request the Court of Justice of the European Union to give a ruling on the question. In such cases, the deadlines applying to the rulings of the arbitration panel shall be suspended until the Court of Justice of the European Union has given its ruling. The ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union shall be binding on the arbitration tribunal.”

Since the entire point of the Association Agreement is “regulatory or legislative approximation” through wholesale adoption of the acquis in the key economic areas mentioned in Article 322, what this paragraph does is give the EU effective control of Ukraine’s economy, with the EU’s decisions having the force of law, with the right of enforcement given not to Ukraine’s own courts, but to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

To hide away this provision the Association Agreement creates an elaborate arbitration system to settle disputes. However, since in deciding legal questions the arbitration tribunal is bound by decisions of the European Court of Justice, the final decision always ultimately rests with the EU.

Other sections of the Association Agreement are equally far reaching, with Ukraine for example required to harmonize its foreign, defense, tax and transport policies with those of the EU, to base its intellectual property law on that of the EU, and even to allow unrestricted access to EU investigators undertaking “anti-corruption” investigations in Ukraine.

The Association Agreement does not therefore just create a free trade area.  What it does – and what it is intended to do – is make Ukraine in effect a part of the European Economic Area and of the European Single Market administered by the EU Commission in Brussels.

It does so despite Ukraine remaining outside the EU. Ukraine is surrendering control of its economy to the EU without the corresponding benefit of EU membership.

Many people within the EU today complain about the power the democratically-unaccountable institutions of the EU have over their lives. They are however at least represented in the EU through their governments and can vote in elections to the European parliament. Ukraine’s people will have no representation at all, and no say through their government in what the EU decides for them.

(bold italics added)

‘Soft Brexit’ is Ukraine’s EU association agreement applied to Britain.  Just as by committing itself to the association agreement Ukraine has over control of its economy to the EU without the corresponding benefits of EU membership, so ‘soft Brexit’ would hand over control of Britain’s economy to the EU without the corresponding benefit for Britain of EU membership.

Just as the EU institutions (the European Council, the Council of Ministers and the EU Commission) are entitled by Ukraine’s association agreement to regulate the entire working of Ukraine’s economy, so if Britain went for a ‘soft Brexit’ they would be entitled to regulate the entire working of Britain’s economy.

Since Ukraine is not a member of the EU, and since Britain will cease to be a member of the EU in two years time, Ukraine and Britain will have no say in either case, and decisions of the European Court of Justice on law they have no part in making will be binding on both.

If the association agreement has robbed Ukraine of its economic independence, turning it into an economic satellite and vassal state of the EU, so the ‘soft Brexit’ some support would do exactly the same for Britain.

I cannot see any possible merit in this.  ‘Soft Brexit’ would simply make Britain even more subordinate to the EU than it is already, whilst depriving it of such say in EU decision as it currently has as an EU member state.

I cannot see how this is remotely consistent with the clear and unambiguous decision to leave the EU taken by the British people in the Brexit referendum last year, and I am sure that many of those who campaign for a ‘soft Brexit’ know it.

Their agenda is to create an unsatisfactory half-way house, which they hope to leverage to bring Britain eventually back into the EU when the current anti-EU mood – as they hope – has subsided.

In reality precisely because ‘soft Brexit’ is so unsatisfactory it isn’t going to happen.  Neither the Conservative nor the Labour leaderships support it, and in Jeremy Corbyn’s case he unquestionably knows that the strongly social democratic manifesto he put to the British people in the election cannot be implemented if Britain goes for a ‘soft Brexit’ because key provisions of that manifesto – such as the re-nationalisation of the  railway system – are incompatible with EU law.

Moreover – a point that is repeatedly overlooked – it is doubtful that a ‘soft Brexit’ is what the EU wants either.  A good explanation of why has been provided in the Financial Times by the columnist Wolfgang Münchau who has also explained why for procedural reasons Brexit is now essentially irreversible

Brexit, hard or soft, is not the UK’s decision alone. It is not even primarily the UK’s decision. The second is that the Brexit process is driven by the legal procedures of the EU, not whether commentators think a UK prime minister has a mandate or not. And finally, from a European perspective, it does not matter whether the UK has a minority government, a coalition or a governing party with a 100-seat majority. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, never achieved a result as good as Mrs May did last week.

Both are improbable. But even then, the reversal of Article 50 would not happen automatically. It may not even be legally possible.

Even in the unlikely case that the European Court of Justice were to give an opinion on this issue, the final decision does not lie with the British parliament, but with the European Council, which is guided by its own self-interest.

If Brexit cannot technically be reversed, can it be materially altered or softened?

I do not see how this is possible, either, except through a longer transition period. Mrs May’s letter triggering Article 50 laid down two clear conditions: no membership of the customs union and no membership of the single market.

What very few Remainers in the UK seem to realise is that the EU favours a Brexit with no single market and customs union membership, because it makes a difficult negotiating process easier. The degrees of hardness and softness are not unilateral choices to be taken by the UK electorate.

(bold italics added)

As Wolfgang Münchau says, the real issue is not whether there will be a ‘soft Brexit’ or a ‘hard Brexit’ – the only possible outcome is a ‘hard Brexit’ whoever Britain’s Prime Minister is – but negotiating the transitional arrangements needed to achieve it.

Negotiating those transitional arrangements and agreeing how long they will last is a colossal and massively complex undertaking, all the more so as it must be done in parallel with the equally massive task of preparing for life Britain outside the EU.

The expertise to do all this exists in Britain, but it will require the widest possible degree of consultation and openness to work out an effective strategy.  Theresa May’s preposterous proposal to EU Commission President Juncker to conduct the whole Brexit negotiation in secret is the diametric opposite of what the situation requires.  If she now leaves office, making it possible for someone more attune with the realities of the situation to take over, then the election Britain has just had may turn out to be Britain’s deliverance.

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Understanding the Holodomor and why Russia says nothing

A descendant of Holodomor victims takes the rest of us to school as to whether or not Russia needs to shoulder the blame.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the charges that nationalist Ukrainians often lodge against their Russian neighbors is that the Russian government has never acknowledged or formally apologized to Ukraine for the “Holodomor” that took place in Ukraine in 1932-1933. This was a man-made famine that killed an estimated seven to 10 million Ukrainians , though higher estimates claim 12.5 million and lower ones now claim 3.3 million.

No matter what the total was, it amounts to a lot of people that starved to death. The charge that modern-day Russia ought to apologize for this event is usually met with silence, which further enrages those Ukrainians that believe that this issue must be resolved by the Russian acknowledgement of responsibility for it. Indeed, the prime charge of these Ukrainians is that the Russians committed a genocide against the Ukrainian people. This is a claim Russia denies.

To the outside observer who does not know this history of Russia and Ukraine’s relationship, and who does not know or understand the characteristics of the Soviet Union, this charge seems as simple and laid out as that of the Native Americans or the blacks demanding some sort of recompense or restitution for the damages inflicted on these societies through conquest and / or slavery. But we discovered someone who had family connections involved in the Holodomor, and who offers her own perspective, which is instructive in why perhaps the Russian Federation does not say anything about this situation.

Scene in Kharkiv with dead from the famine 1932-33 lying along the street.

The speaker is Anna Vinogradova, a Russian Israeli-American, who answered the question through Quora of “Why doesn’t Russia recognize the Holodomor as a genocide?” She openly admits that she speaks only for herself, but her answer is still instructive. We offer it here, with some corrections for the sake of smooth and understandable English:

I can’t speak for Russia and what it does and doesn’t recognize. I can speak for myself.

I am a great-granddaughter of a “Kulak” (кулак), or well-to-do peasant, who lived close to the Russia/Ukraine border.

The word “кулак” means “fist” in Russian, and it wasn’t a good thing for a person to be called by this label. A кулак was an exploiter of peasants and a class enemy of the new state of workers and poor peasants. In other words, while under Communism, to be called a кулак was to bring a death sentence upon yourself.

At some point, every rural class enemy, every peasant who wasn’t a member of a collective farm was eliminated one way or another.

Because Ukraine has very fertile land and the Ukrainian style of agriculture often favors individual farms as opposed to villages, there is no question that many, many Ukrainian peasants were considered class enemies like my great grandfather, and eliminated in class warfare.

I have no doubt that class warfare included starvation, among other things.

The catch? My great grandfather was an ethnic Russian living in Russia. What nationality were the communists who persecuted and eventually shot him? They were of every nationality there was (in the Soviet Union), and they were led by a Ukrainian, who was taking orders from a Georgian.

Now, tell me, why I, a descendant of an unjustly killed Russian peasant, need to apologize to the descendants of the Ukrainians who killed him on the orders of a Georgian?

What about the Russian, Kazakh golodomor (Russian rendering of the same famine)? What about the butchers, who came from all ethnicities? Can someone explain why it’s only okay to talk about Ukrainian victims and Russian persecutors? Why do we need to rewrite history decades later to convert that brutal class war into an ethnic war that it wasn’t?

Ethnic warfare did not start in Russia until after WWII, when some ethnicities were accused of collaboration with the Nazis and brutal group punishments were implemented. It was all based on class up to that time.

The communists of those years were fanatically internationalist. “Working people of all countries, unite!” was their slogan and they were fanatical about it.

As for the crimes of Communism, Russia has been healing this wound for decades, and Russia’s government has made its anticommunist position very clear.

This testimony is most instructive. First, it points out information that the charge of the Holodomor as “genocide!” neatly leaves out. In identifying the internationalist aspects of the Soviet Union, Ukraine further was not a country identified as somehow worthy of genocidal actions. Such a thought makes no sense, especially given the great importance of Ukraine as the “breadbasket” of the Soviet Union, which it was.

Secondly, it shows a very western-style of “divide to conquer” with a conveniently incendiary single-word propaganda tool that is no doubt able to excite any Ukrainian who may be neutral to slightly disaffected about Russia, and then after that, all Ukrainians are now victims of the mighty evil overlords in Moscow.

How convenient is this when the evil overlords in Kyiv don’t want their citizens to know what they are doing?

We saw this on Saturday – taken to a very high peak when President Petro Poroshenko announced the new leading “Hierarch” of the “Ukrainian National Church” and said not one single word about Christ, but only:

“This day will go down in history as the day of the creation of an autocephalous Orthodox church in Ukraine… This is the day of the creation of the church as an independent structure… What is this church? It is a church without Putin. It is a church without Kirill, without prayer for the Russian authorities and the Russian army.”

But as long as Russia is made the “problem”, millions of scandalized Ukrainians will not care what this new Church actually does or teaches, which means it is likely to teach just about anything.

Russia had its own Holodomor. The history of the event shows that this was a result of several factors – imposed socialist economics on a deeply individualized form of agrarian capitalism (bad for morale and worse for food production), really inane centralized planning of cropland use, and a governmental structure that really did not exist to serve the governed, but to impose an ideology on people who really were not all that interested in it.

Personal blame might well lay with Stalin, a Georgian, but the biggest source of the famine lay in the structures imposed under communism as a way of economic strategy. This is not Russia’s fault. It is the economic model that failed.

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Mueller Finally Releases Heavily Redacted Key Flynn Memo On Eve Of Sentencing

Alex Christoforou

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Via Zerohedge


Having initially snubbed Judge Emmet Sullivan’s order to release the original 302 report from the Michael Flynn interrogation in January 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has finally produced the heavily redacted document, just hours before sentencing is due to be handed down.

The memo  – in full below – details then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s interview with FBI agents Peter Strzok and Joe Pientka, and shows Flynn was repeatedly asked about his contacts with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and in each instance, Flynn denied (or did not recall) any such conversations.

The agents had transcripts of Flynn’s phone calls to Russian Ambassador Kislyak, thus showing Flynn to be lying.

Flynn pleaded guilty guilty last December to lying to the FBI agents about those conversations with Kislyak.

The redactions in the document seem oddly placed but otherwise, there is nothing remarkable about the content…

Aside from perhaps Flynn’s incredulity at the media attention…

Flynn is set to be sentenced in that federal court on Tuesday.

Of course, as Christina Laila notes, the real crime is that Flynn was unmasked during his phone calls to Kislyak and his calls were illegally leaked by a senior Obama official to the Washington Post.

*  *  *

Full document below…

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Don’t Laugh : It’s Giving Putin What He Wants

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself.

Caitlin Johnstone

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Authored by Caitlin Johnstone:


The BBC has published an article titled “How Putin’s Russia turned humour into a weapon” about the Kremlin’s latest addition to its horrifying deadly hybrid warfare arsenal: comedy.

The article is authored by Olga Robinson, whom the BBC, unhindered by any trace of self-awareness, has titled “Senior Journalist (Disinformation)”. Robinson demonstrates the qualifications and acumen which earned her that title by warning the BBC’s audience that the Kremlin has been using humor to dismiss and ridicule accusations that have been leveled against it by western governments, a “form of trolling” that she reports is designed to “deliberately lower the level of discussion”.

“Russia’s move towards using humour to influence its campaigns is a relatively recent phenomenon,” Robinson explains, without speculating as to why Russians might have suddenly begun laughing at their western accusers. She gives no consideration to the possibility that the tightly knit alliance of western nations who suddenly began hysterically shrieking about Russia two years ago have simply gotten much more ridiculous and easier to make fun of during that time.

Couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the emergence of a demented media environment wherein everything around the world from French protests to American culture wars to British discontent with the European Union gets blamed on Russia without any facts or evidence. Wherein BBC reporters now correct guests and caution them against voicing skepticism of anti-Russia narratives because the UK is in “an information war” with that nation. Wherein the same cable news Russiagate pundit can claim that both Rex Tillerson’s hiring and his later firing were the result of a Russian conspiracy to benefit the Kremlin. Wherein mainstream outlets can circulate blatantly false information about Julian Assange and unnamed “Russians” and then blame the falseness of that reporting on Russian disinformation. Wherein Pokemon Go, cutesy Facebook memes and $4,700 in Google ads are sincerely cited as methods by which Hillary Clinton’s $1.2 billion presidential campaign was outdone. Wherein conspiracy theories that Putin has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government have been blaring on mainstream headline news for two years with absolutely nothing to show for it to this day.

Nope, the only possibility is that the Kremlin suddenly figured out that humor is a thing.

The fact of the matter is that humorous lampooning of western establishment Russia narratives writes itself. The hypocrisy is so cartoonish, the emotions are so breathlessly over-the-top, the stories so riddled with plot holes and the agendas underlying them so glaringly obvious that they translate very easily into laughs. I myself recently authored a satire piece that a lot of people loved and which got picked up by numerous alternative media outlets, and all I did was write down all the various escalations this administration has made against Russia as though they were commands being given to Trump by Putin. It was extremely easy to write, and it was pretty damn funny if I do say so myself. And it didn’t take any Kremlin rubles or dezinformatsiya from St Petersburg to figure out how to write it.

“Ben Nimmo, an Atlantic Council researcher on Russian disinformation, told the BBC that attempts to create funny memes were part of the strategy as ‘disinformation for the information age’,” the article warns. Nimmo, ironically, is himself intimately involved with the British domestic disinformation firm Integrity Initiative, whose shady government-sponsored psyops against the Labour Party have sparked a national scandal that is likely far from reaching peak intensity.

“Most comedy programmes on Russian state television these days are anodyne affairs which either do not touch on political topics, or direct humour at the Kremlin’s perceived enemies abroad,” Robinson writes, which I found funny since I’d just recently read an excellent essay by Michael Tracey titled “Why has late night swapped laughs for lusting after Mueller?”

“If the late night ‘comedy’ of the Trump era has something resembling a ‘message,’ it’s that large segments of the nation’s liberal TV viewership are nervously tracking every Russia development with a passion that cannot be conducive to mental health – or for that matter, political efficacy,” Tracey writes, documenting numerous examples of the ways late night comedy now has audiences cheering for a US intelligence insider and Bush appointee instead of challenging power-serving media orthodoxies as programs like The Daily Show once did.

If you wanted the opposite of “anodyne affairs”, it would be comedians ridiculing the way all the establishment talking heads are manipulating their audiences into supporting the US intelligence community and FBI insiders. It would be excoriating the media environment in which unfathomably powerful world-dominating government agencies are subject to less scrutiny and criticism than a man trapped in an embassy who published inconvenient facts about those agencies. It certainly wouldn’t be the cast of Saturday Night Live singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to a framed portrait if Robert Mueller wearing a Santa hat. It doesn’t get much more anodyne than that.

Russia makes fun of western establishment narratives about it because those narratives are so incredibly easy to make fun of that they are essentially asking for it, and the nerdy way empire loyalists are suddenly crying victim about it is itself more comedy. When Guardian writer Carole Cadwalladr began insinuating that RT covering standard newsworthy people like Julian Assange and Nigel Farage was a conspiracy to “boost” those people for the advancement of Russian agendas instead of a news outlet doing the thing that news reporting is, RT rightly made fun of her for it. Cadwalladr reacted to RT’s mockery with a claim that she was a victim of “attacks”, instead of the recipient of perfectly justified ridicule for circulating an intensely moronic conspiracy theory.

Ah well. People are nuts and we’re hurtling toward a direct confrontation with a nuclear superpower. Sometimes there’s nothing else to do but laugh. As Wavy Gravy said, “Keep your sense of humor, my friend; if you don’t have a sense of humor it just isn’t funny anymore.”

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