Author: Rufus Coombe

After a Rejected Brexit Deal, What Comes Next?

Rufus Coombe | UK

Theresa May lost the vote on her Brexit deal this week with 202 votes in favor and 432 against. This is the largest commons defeat for a government since 1924, with 118 of Theresa May’s own MPs voting against her. Britain’s future relationship with Europe is once again uncertain but one thing is now clear: May’s deal is dead. There are three popular alternatives which we may see in the coming months.

The 585-page agreement, which Theresa May brought back from Brussels, received criticism for being both too ‘hard’ and too ‘soft’ a deal from both sides. A soft Brexit maintains many ties with the EU, whereas a hard Brexit severs many.

The Failed Brexit Deal of Theresa May

A sticking point in the deal for both remainers and leavers alike was the proposed Irish backstop. This is a plan to keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland open at all costs. However, to do this the deal proposed to have EU law bind all of Ireland. Instead, there would be a border between Northern Ireland and the UK. This would effectively force the UK to split and create a border within its own territory.

The deal also included a £39 Billion payout to the EU (roughly the defense budget for a year). The deal asserted that Britain would keep ‘equivalent standards’ to the EU on employment, regulation, and the environment. This means that Britain would not be able to compete with the EU by becoming a tax haven. Many ardent leavers see this as a breach of sovereignty.

Additionally, the backstop agreement does not allow the UK to leave unilaterally. Rather, they must remain in the EU until the EU gives them permission to leave. This means that EU nations could hold the government to ransom. It seems difficult to negotiate a fair deal when the EU has huge power over our land. One Conservative MP repeated the apt proverb: “You cannot reason with a tiger with your head in its mouth”.

Others opposed the deal as they said it went too far. For example, it included taking Britain out of the single market and customs union. The government also acknowledged that it would make Britain worse off.

Britain leaves Europe, with or without a deal, on the 29th of March, 2019. The questions thus become: who will try to obstruct Brexit in the next few months? How successful will their operations be? There are many rival factions within Parliament but the main three are the following:

A Second Referendum

Around 125 Members of Parliament from all sides of the house support this notion. It would involve another vote by the British people. It is a position that almost exclusively remainers support. As a result, many see it as an attempt to reverse the previous vote. Most Conservatives and the leadership of the Labour Party strongly oppose this. It would mean that Britain would have the option to go back to the EU.

A No-deal Brexit

Not a single MP supports this publicly as a first option. However, fervent Brexit supporters would support a no-deal over delaying the leave. These individuals are small in number but nonetheless very vocal. The government has refused to rule out a no deal Brexit.

Experts predict that a no-deal scenario would be disastrous for the economy. Thus, businesses and Parliament alike widely oppose the plan. Its supporters are often dismissed as zealots and ‘extremists’. Despite this, do not underestimate the possibility of it occurring. This is the default position on the 29th of March if Parliament has not ratified a deal.

A Norway Option

Currently, Norway is not a member-state of the EU, but the two groups have close ties. Some in Britain believe that the best way forward is to adopt a similar policy.

This would include the negotiation of a new deal which would keep Britain in the customs union and single market. It would also mean that EU rules and regulations would apply to Britain. However, much like Norway, the country would not have control over the creation of these rules.

Britain would also be unable to set its own immigration policy. It is possible that a majority of Parliament could support this notion, but negotiations would likely delay Brexit, which the government opposes. It would end up being popular in Parliament but not with the people. Brexit supporters may see it as a sell-out. On the contrary, remainers might consider it a waste of time and still fight for a second referendum. The division between these two factions will probably appear soon.

The Most Likely Scenario

The MPs who threw themselves behind Theresa May will now have to find a new option. Many will stick to the party line, which indicates that no-deal may be possible. With the gridlock in Parliament, we may find ourselves walking into a no-deal Brexit.

The next important vote in Parliament will probably be an attempt to rule out a no-deal or an attempt to delay Brexit. If the conservatives can hold the line on these votes, then no-deal becomes much more likely. If the government loses these votes, we will likely get a deal ‘softer’ than the one the house just rejected. It is unlikely that there will be another referendum unless the Labour Party changes its position. 


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Is Britain Still a Free Country Today?

By Rufus Coombe | United Kingdom

During the 19th century, Britain was a pioneer of freedom, a leader in individual liberties, and a staunch defender of the ideas of classical liberalism, many of which have their origins in British philosophy. Today, Britain no longer stands as a staunch bastion of liberty nor does it stand out in its defense of free markets. Britain, the country that began modern capitalism, lead the campaign against slavery, created the first restrictive constitution (the Magna Carta), popularised free trade and which was at the forefront of the fight for personal liberty. Much of this changed dramatically during the late 20th century.

An integral question for the modern day is; does Britain still protect the values of free people and free markets it once espoused? How authoritarian is modern Britain?

A common talking point of the right, particularly in America, is the alleged authoritarianism of Europe. The focus of such arguments usually revolves around the supposedly tyrannous state of Britain. One should explore the accuracy of this sentiment and tackle both the myths and the truths of the accusation.

Britain and Negative Rights

To assess the validity of the claims about freedom in Britain, start by using the idea of negative rights. Negative rights are a rejection of the contemporary view of rights. They state that an individual is free if others cannot inhibit them from acting. Negative rights impose a duty on others to abscond from intervening whereas positive rights compel another to act to provide the right. An action is not representative of freedom if others are forced to aid you in any way. By this definition, one does not have a ‘right’ to healthcare because healthcare forces others to act for you (they must pay taxes to subsidize it). However one does have a right to private property as private property only requires that others refrain from infringing upon your land. These differences will be crucial in the analysis.

Britain, for a large part, is still a free society. Inalienable rights such as the right to property and life are still tenets of its legal system. Murder, rape, and theft are prohibited by the British state. The government still carries out its proper protective functions such as the protection of life and property.

Furthermore, British press freedom is ranked 40th in the world, low for a western country but still above the global average. Britain, in theory, also has equality in the eyes of the law for sexual and racial minorities summarised in the 2010 equality act which forbids the state or judiciary from discriminating based on race, religion or sexuality. Moreover, the police force is unarmed and has restraints placed upon it. This protects the citizens from being violated by a rogue or overreaching constabulary.

However, Britain has ventured into an age of authoritarianism. With enforced progressivism, the introduction of an extensive welfare state, and increasingly invasive powers handed to the police, Britain seems on the cusp of becoming Orwellian.

An Orwellian Country

The principle of voluntary association has been disregarded and replaced with a new idea that one’s land is no longer one’s own but rather the property of the community. This is seen by the popularisation of collectivist values with most, if not all prominent politicians arguing from the collective perspective on issues such as healthcare, education and unemployment benefit. No prominent political party supports the privatization of these faculties of the state.

The individual is no longer free to use their property as they see fit, instead the use of land is now often dictated by the state. For example, intrusive Pigovian taxes augmented by heavy substance controls means that people can no longer buy and sell what they want. Britain has waged an extensive war against ‘victimless crimes’ with a costly drug war and stringent rules on prostitution. Implementation of a sugar tax and congestion charges (effectively taxes on driving in certain areas) has allowed the state to step further forwards in its march for omnipotence. Britain is very much a nanny state with Pigovian taxes on everything from alcohol to energy drinks.

In addition, it is now illegal to refuse service to certain groups of people or to extend membership organizations to only one member. For example, the equality act of 2010 means employees and property owners cannot discriminate based on race, sexuality or gender. While equal treatment should be encouraged, legislation compelling it is in flagrant violation of the principle of individual sovereignty. The state intervenes to ensure that an opening to one is an opening to all- a job must be equal to all applicants regardless of the wishes of the employer. In Britain, one has no choice but to bake the cake. The moral reservations of individuals are cast aside for the demands of the collective. Unlike in some countries (such as the US) where the right to refuse services have been preserved.

Furthermore, Britain has implemented numerous draconian free speech restrictions which inhibit the individual’s ability to speak candidly and openly. With the recent and notoriously case of count Dankula, who was fined for racist language and hate speech after filming his pug making Nazi salutes, it is clear that Britain is no longer free, even in the realm of entertainment. The police in the UK spent 3,750 police hours tackling online hate speech, most of which was even too trivial to be taken to court. Britain has begun curbing freedom of speech- a fundamental tenet of freedom.

But it is not only jokes which are being censored (albeit unfunny ones). The government has criminalized numerous political organizations of an unsavory nature. The actions of individual members of these groups have led to the government cracking down on their very existence. Such as the banning of National Front (a neo-fascist organization) which was banned in December 2016. Again, the right to free association falls apart.

The Surveillance State

Then there is the issue of privacy. In 2016 the government passed the investigatory powers bill, also dubbed the ‘snoopers charter’. This was only the most recent extension of the state’s powers to monitor and collect online content. The bill stipulates that all data providers must monitor and keep a record of their users’ messages and viewed content which the security agencies can then view if necessary. The UK authorities now have the power to draw up and read anyone’s private messages or see their web history, a clear violation of the right to privacy.

Government mass surveillance does not end at the internet, the security agencies also have a prodigious network of security cameras. It is estimated that there are 11 people per security camera in the UK. Britain is one of the most surveyed countries in the world.

Moreover, Britain also has a protruding welfare state. Funded by burdening tax rates (some brackets which are in excess of 40%). People are being extorted to pay for the government, large tax rates are the enemy of a free and prosperous country. The British welfare state is one of the most intrusive and malignant welfare programs in the world. The arguably bureaucracy riddled welfare system is now being reformed, however, the main principle of collective responsibility remains. To those who believe in a free economy, this spells bad news.

41% of GDP in the UK is from government spending. This exorbitant amount of government spending coupled with cumbersome regulations means huge sections of the economy are now de facto controlled by the state. The constant stream of new regulation flowing from parliament augmented by additional EU restrictions has led to an economic minefield of regulation. Bizarrely, private property no longer seems very private. What good is privately owning a business or a home if it’s management is dictated to you by the state?

Finally, what many Americans love to decry; Britain has the most hostile gun regulation in the world. The right to own guns has been severely curtailed. The rules on getting a firearm have very stringent since the 1997 handgun act. Due to a recent surge in knife crime in the capital, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, is banning knives and considering imposing yet more pernicious regulation on gun ownership. The idea of banning knives is something Americans find alien if also a little comical, in Britain the general populace barely bat an eye at the idea.

This article was intended to be a balanced piece to debunk the claims of totalitarianism in Britain, but the overwhelming amount of evidence found was against this premise. The more was discovered about the modern legal system, the more demoralizing the situation seemed to become. As you will see from the points discussed above, Britain is far from the bastion of freedom it once was. It has strayed from beliefs in small government and inalienable rights. There is now a socialist mindset which has permeated into British society. A mindset which will only bring more authoritarianism.

This article has only tackled the major talking points and there is far more to say. The government is continuing to snowball in size, pressure groups seem to see the government as the only tool for influence and the corporate elite are continuing to pump out regulation. The situation will deteriorate before it gets better.


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Is Maduro The Venezuelan Allende?

By Rufus Coombe | Venezuela

The tragedy of the Venezuelan economy is as infamous as it is indisputable. However, this is where the agreement on the issue ends. By attempting to explain the economic problems the nation is facing, we can analyze the solutions and compare the current situation to an important historical example, from which we can gain great insight. 

There is no unequivocal answer to the question of why Nicolás Maduro’s economy is in such a calamitous state. Some conservatives point to the nationalization of oil and Venezuela’s notoriously restrictive and pernicious effects of leftist economic policy, with Venezuela being rated 179th in economic freedom by the Heritage Foundation. Socialists, on the other hand, are keen to emphasize the large amounts of private activity in the economy the effects of the 2015 collapse in oil prices.

Despite the inconclusiveness of the attempted diagnosis of the problems, the ailing South American nation has become a flagship example for many right-wing speakers, who use it as a paradigm of the failures of socialism. However, we are not here to delve into the rights and wrongs of Maduro’s government, but to espouse a right-wing solution to the crisis and to utilize the lessons of history to help fix a broken country.

The crux of the problem is the issue of inflation; since the oil crisis of 2015, the value of the Bolivar plummeted, with the inflation rate in 2018 reaching 25,000%. In August, the government scrapped the inflation-riddled Bolivar and replaced it with the Sovereign Bolivar, cutting 5 digits off of the note. The inflation crisis, however, does not seem to have abated, with the value of the currency still falling, albeit at a slower rate. Hyperinflation coupled with falling real wages has taken its toll on the population and in 2016, 75% of Venezuelans lost weight; there is a famine ravaging the country and the elected government seems completely overwhelmed by its task of leadership- still running a deficit of 31%.

It is pointless to delve into the often navigated and regularly investigated failures of the planned economy. Instead, we shall draw a comparison between today’s Venezuela and an astonishingly similar set of events in the history of another South American nation: Chile.

Salvador Allende and Socialist Chile

On the third of September 1973, Salvador Allende, a socialist, was elected president of Chile. Just like Maduro, he was a populist inspired by Fidel Castro and Karl Marx. Allende came to power democratically and promised sweeping economic reforms aimed to aid the proletariat. Both Maduro and Allende were democratic socialists, both strove to reform their nations economies and, as we will see, both failed.

The economic impracticalities of socialism became immediately apparent in Chile unlike in Venezuela where they were masked by large oil wealth. Economies do not react instantaneously and there is often a lag time between policy implementation and their effects. However, the effects of a regulated economy and a large welfare state caught up with Venezuela in 2016 when the economy contracted 16.5%.

Crucially, Allende pursued the same economic policies as Maduro. He began the nationalization and collectivization of Chilean industry and of course, inflation was, once again, the bane of his newly reformed economy, with the inflation rate peaking above 300%.

As you can see, the resemblance is uncanny. Maduro and his predecessor, Chavez, managed to do to Venezuela what Allende did to Chile. The “Venezuelan way to socialism” has proved as disastrous as “The Chilean way to socialism”. In both cases wages went through the floor, inflation rates were in the hundreds, unemployment rates were well above average, large deficits were created, and GDP stagnated, despite both nations being endowed with large quantities of valuable natural resources (oil for Venezuela and copper for Chile).

So what happened? Chile now has the highest GDP per capita in South America. How did its crippled economy go from a stagnating, dire and decrepit mess to the envy of its neighbors? The answer comes in the form of a man named General Augusto Pinochet.

Pinochet’s Coup

Late in 1973 General Pinochet launched a military coup against Allende’s government. The country had enough. He overthrew the democratic government established a military junta. Pinochet was a barbaric man and he is notorious for his human rights abuses. Despite this, he implemented sweeping free-market reforms, which resulted in Chile becoming the economic powerhouse it is today.

During his 17 years in power, wages grew, exports boomed, GDP grew, and Chile got back on its feet. When there was eventually a plebiscite to decide whether he would remain in power, he won 44% of the vote (more than Allende had in 1970). Nevertheless, he stood aside and surrendered power, leaving his beloved Chile one of the most prosperous nations in South America. Due to its economic success, Chile kept the Pinochet economic reforms largely intact. Today Chile is still the 7th freest economy in the world and wage growth has not fallen below inflation since 1990.

Is there a lesson that Venezuela could learn here? One has to hope so. Fresh leadership is needed to take Venezuela out of these dark times. If Maduro is the new Allende, will we see their version of Pinochet rise?


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