Archive for Article 50

Splitting from Euratom

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , on January 27, 2017 by telescoper

This week the government published a short bill in response to the Supreme Court’s decision, announced on Tuesday morning, that Parliament should be involved in the process of notifying the European Union if and when the United Kingdom decides to leave. The Supreme Court (by a majority of 8-3) upheld the earlier decision of the High Court that  the Executive could not take a decision of such magnitude (effectively using the Royal Prerogative) without explicit Parliamentary approval.

The Article 50 Bill is very short. In fact this is it in full:


The government plans to force this  through both the House of Lords and the House of Commons in five days, although will undoubtedly be attempts to amend it.  It has subsequently emerged that a White Paper concerning the process of negotiating the withdrawal will be published, but not until after the Article 50 Bill is enacted. It’s readily apparent that the government is merely playing grudging lip-service to the sovereignty of Parliament. Let’s hope Parliament shows some guts for once and stands up for the interests of the United Kingdom by refusing the give the Executive Carte Blanche and insisting on full Parliamentary scrutiny of the process, including giving MPs the chance to call off the whole fiasco when it becomes obvious that we’re better off not leaving the EU after all.

As another example of the contempt for open government, news broke today that in the explanatory notes for the Article 50 bill, the UK government indicates that it intends for the UK to leave the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). This organization has a number of regulatory roles concerning nuclear energy supply and distribution, but also has a major research focus on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a project aimed at constructing a fusion reactor, which currently involves a significant number of UK scientists. This project is truly international: involving the EU, Russia, the USA, Japan, Korea and India.

Unlike, e.g. CERN and ESA, the organization of Euratom is legally linked to the European Union, so one can argue that withdrawal from the EU necessarily means leaving Euratom, but to announce this in the explanatory notes without any attempt to discuss it either in Parliament or with the organizations involved seems to me yet another manifestation of the UK government’s desire to avoid any consultation at all, wherever this is possible. The Supreme Court prevented them from excluding Parliament, but it is clear that they will continue to avoid due process whenever they think they can get away with it. This announcement now puts a big question mark over the futures of many scientists involved in nuclear research. You can find a blog post on this by a nuclear physicist, Paul Stevenson of the University of Surrey, here.

The decision to withdraw from Euratom poses very serious questions about our nuclear industry as well as nuclear physics and engineering research so it should be discussed and evaluated. Whatever you think about BrExit, trying to force through such important decisions without consultation is not the proper way for a government to carry on.

Hard BrExit Reality Bites UK Science

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , , , on January 17, 2017 by telescoper

Before lunch today I listened to the Prime Minister’s much-heralded speech (full text here) at Lancaster House giving a bit more detail about the UK government’s approach to forthcoming negotiations to leave the European Union. As I had expected the speech was mainly concerned with stating the obvious – especially about the UK leaving the so-called Single Market – though there was an interesting, if rather muddled, discussion of some kind of associate membership of the Customs Union.

As I said when I blogged about the EU Referendum result back in June last year

For example, there will be no access to the single market post-BrExit without free movement of people.

The EU has made it perfectly clear all along that it will not compromise on the “four freedoms” that represent the principles on which the Single Market (correct name; “Internal Market”) is based. The UK government has also made it clear that it is running scared of the anti-immigration lobby in the Conservative Party and UKIP, despite the mountain of evidence (e.g. here) that immigration actually benefits the UK economy rather than harming it. A so-called “hard BrExit” approach has therefore been inevitable from the outset.

In any case, it always seemed to me that leaving the EU (and therefore giving up democratic representation on the bodies that govern the single market) but remaining in the Single Market would be completely illogical to anyone motivated by the issue of “sovereignty” (whatever that means).  So I think it always was – and still is – a choice between a hard BrExit and no BrExit at all. There’s no question in my mind – and Theresa May’s speech has hardened my views considerably – that remaining in the EU is by far the best option for the UK. That outcome is looking unlikely now, but there is still a long way to go and many questions have still to be answered, including whether the Article 50 notification can be revoked and whether the devolved assemblies in Scotland and Northern Ireland have to give separate consent. Interestingly, the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2015 General Election included a commitment to work within the Single Market, so it would be within the constitutional limits on the House of Lords to vote down any attempt to leave it.

Overall, I felt the speech was worthwhile insofar as it gave a bit of clarity on some issues, but it was also full of contradictions on others. For example, early on the PM stated:

Parliamentary sovereignty is the basis of our constitution.

Correct, but in that case why did the UK government appeal the High Court’s decision that this was the case (i.e. that Parliamentary consent was needed to invoke Article 50)? Moreover, why if she thinks Parliament is so important did she not give today’s speech in the House of Commons?

This brings me to what the speech might imply for British science in a post-BrExit era. Here’s what I said in June 2016:

It’s all very uncertain, of course, but it seems to me that as things stand, any deal that involves free movement within Europe would be unacceptable to the powerful  UK anti-immigration lobby. This rules out a “Norway” type deal, among others, and almost certainly means there will be no access to any science EU funding schemes post 2020. Free movement is essential to the way most of these schemes operate anyway.

I’m by no means always right, but I think I was right about that. It is now clear that UK scientists will not be eligible for EU funding under the Horizon 2020 programme.  Switzerland (which is in the Single Market) wasn’t allowed to remain in Horizon 2020 without freedom of movement, and neither will the UK. If the PM does indeed trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017 then we will leave the EU by April 2019. That means that existing EU projects and funding will probably be stopped at that point, although the UK government has pledged to provide short-term replacement funding for grants already awarded. From now on it seems likely that EU teams will seek to exclude UK scientists.

This exclusion is not an unexpected outcome, but still disappointing. The PM’s speech states:

One of our great strengths as a nation is the breadth and depth of our academic and scientific communities, backed up by some of the world’s best universities. And we have a proud history of leading and supporting cutting-edge research and innovation.

So we will also welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research, and technology initiatives.

From space exploration to clean energy to medical technologies, Britain will remain at the forefront of collective endeavours to better understand, and make better, the world in which we live.

Warm words, but it’s hard to reconcile them with reality.  We used to be “leading” EU collaborative teams. In a few years we’ll  be left standing on the touchlines. The future looks very challenging for science, and especially for fundamental science, in the UK.

But the politics around EU science programmes pales into insignificance compared the toxic atmosphere of xenophobia that has engulfed much of the UK. The overt policy of the government to treat EU citizens in the UK as bargaining chips will cause untold stress, as will the Home Office’s heavy-handed approach to those who seek to confirm the permanent residence they will otherwise lose when the UK leaves the EU. Why should anyone – scientist or otherwise – stay in this country to be treated in such a way? 

All of this makes me think those scientists I know who have already left the UK for EU institutions probably made the right decision. The question is how many more will follow?

Why Dublin is Right

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on December 14, 2016 by telescoper

You’ve probably heard via the news that Jolyon Maugham QC is bringing a case through the Irish courts in Dublin to the European Court of Justice in order to establish whether Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is reversible, i.e. whether it is possible in principle for the UK government to “untrigger” BrExit for whatever reason.

There’s be an astonishingly level of ill-informed criticism and downright personal abuse flying about as a result of his decision to crowdsource this case, but I think it’s a very good thing. I just wonder why our own government seems to be so unconcerned about the legality of its actions…

Waiting for Godot

You can read,here, why I believe it is the right thing for both the UK and Ireland that there be legal certainty on whether Article 50, once triggered, can be reversed. I will not repeat my reasoning but I do invite you to re-read that piece.

The greatest possible compliment has been paid to that argument by those who would leave whatever the cost to our nation: they haverefused to engage with it. Instead they have attacked me. Occasional distraction though they are, I do not mind the personal attacks. They reveal more about my opponents’ paucity of thinking on the substance of my argument than they do about me. Everything I have put in the public domain aboutmyself(and mytax practice)is true.

Alongside these personal attacks, there has been some considered focus on whether this is the right step to take or at this…

View original post 645 more words

Betting on the Supreme Court

Posted in mathematics with tags , , , , , , , on December 6, 2016 by telescoper

This week the UK Supreme Court is hearing an appeal by HM Government against the judgment recently delivered by the High Court which was that the UK Government must seek the approval of Parliament before it can invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and thus begin the process of leaving the European Union. You can watch the proceedings live here. I had a brief look myself this morning but as I’m not a legal expert I found it rather hard to follow as it’s rather technical stuff. That wasn’t helped by the rather dull delivery of James Eade QC who was presenting the government’s case. Nevertheless, it is a very good thing that we can see how the law work in practice. I was surprised at the lack of gowns and wigs!

Although Eade seemed (to me) be on a very sticky wicket for some of the time, it’s impossible for me to come to any informed inference about who’s likely to win. Out of interest, to see what other people think, I therefore had a quick look at the betting markets. Traditional bookmakers (such as William Hill) are offering 1-3 (i.e. 3-1 ON) for the original decision being upheld so they’re clearly expecting the appeal to fail.

These days, however, I’ve started to get interested in other kinds of betting markets, especially the BetFair Exchange. This allows customers to act as bookmakers as well as punters by offering the option to “lay” and/or  “back” various possible bets. “Laying” betting means effectively acting as a bookie, proposing odds on a particular outcome. i.e. selling a bet.  “Backing” a bet means buying a bet. The exchange then advertises this to prospective bettors who sign up of they are prepared to stake money on that particular outcome at those particular odds. It’s very similar in concept to other trading services, e.g. share dealing. Matches aren’t always made of course, so not every bet that’s offered gets accepted. If that happens you can try again with more generous odds.

The advantage of this type of betting is that it represents an “efficient market”. Such a market occurs when all the money going into the market equals all the money being paid out in the market – there is no leakage or profits being taken. Efficient betting markets rarely exist outside of betting exchanges – bookmakers need to reap a profit in order to run a business. For example, though William Hill is offering 1-3 on the Supreme Court ruling being upheld, the odds they offer against this outcome are 12-5. These are not “true odds” in the sense that they can’t represent a consistent pair of probabilities of the two outcomes (as they don’t add up to one). In the case of an exchange market a bet laid at 1-3 is automatically backed at 3-1. These can then be regarded as “true odds”.

This is what the BetFair Exchange on the Supreme Court hearing looks like at the moment (you might want to click on the image to make it clearer):



The odds are given in a slightly funny way, giving the gross return for a unit stake (including the stake). In more normal language “4.3” would be 100-30, i.e. a £1 bet gets you £3.33 plus your £1 back. A bet on “overrule” at “4” (3-1) corresponds to a bet against “uphold” at 1.33 (1-3), reflecting what I was saying about “true odds”.

The first thing that struck me is the figure at the top right: £38,427. This is the value of all bets matched in this market. By BetFair standards this is very low. A typical Premiership football match will involve bets at least ten times as big as this. As in the court case itself there just isn’t very much action!

Apart from that you can see that the odds here are broadly similar with William Hill etc with implied odds around 3-1 to 4-1 against overruling.

Before you ask, I’m not going to bet on this myself. My betting strategy usually involves betting on the outcome I don’t want to happen. Although I think Parliament should be involved in Article 50 I am just happy that this matter should be left to our independent judiciary to decide.

Judgment Day on Article 50

Posted in Politics with tags , , on November 3, 2016 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist a quick comment on today’s ruling by the High Court that the Prime Minister cannot trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (and thus begin the process of taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union) without the approval of Parliament. The case was brought by Gina Miller and Deir Tozetti Dos Santos (the claimants) and has important constitutional implications because it limits the use of the Royal Prerogative.

I’m not by any means a legal expert but reading the full judgment it strikes me that this unanimous decision represents a comprehensive defeat for the Government’s lawyers. The crucial paragraphs of the judgment are 92-94 if you wish to refer to them in the full judgment. Interestingly, the ruling  does not really rest on the claimants’ case at all but instead is based on a complete rejection of the main point of the Government’s submission. It looks like the Government’s lawyers bungled it pretty badly. Although the Government has indicated that it will appeal the result, it’s not obvious what the grounds for such an appeal might be. The appeal will be heard some time in December.

I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I am in favour of the United Kingdom remaining inside the European Union. Events since the referendum – especially the collapse of the pound – have strengthened that opinion, in fact.

I am baffled by the extreme reaction of many “Leave” voters to this judgment, especially those who voted that way in order to “restore Parliamentary sovereignty”. Some such individuals are claiming that this ruling is somehow anti-democratic. I don’t think that view is at all rational. If you voted Leave in order to get your sovereignty back then you should be very happy with this decision. In fact whichever side of the referendum debate you were on you should welcome this decision.

We live in a parliamentary democracy. That means that sovereignty rests in Parliament, not in the Prime Minister. This ruling merely asserts that fact. It does not overturn the referendum result  nor does it prevent Article 50 being triggered. It does assert that the Prime Minister’s chosen way to approach BrExit is unlawful. Democracy is nothing without the rule of law.

Incidentally, the judgment also contains the following statement which I think is worth quoting here:

The 2015 Referendum Act was passed against a background including a very clear briefing paper to Parliamentarians explaining that the referendum would have advisory effect only. Moreover, Parliament must have appreciated that the referendum was intended to be only advisory as the result of a vote in the referendum in favour of leaving the European Union would inevitably leave for future decision many important questions relating to the legal implementation of withdrawal from the European Union.

In other words the referendum in itself has no constitutional force and was specifically intended not to.

The government plans to appeal the Article 50 decision to the Supreme Court, at which point it may or may not be overturned. If the appeal fails, then there is one higher authority: the European Court of Justice. It would be a delicious irony if the UK government were forced to appeal there in order to proceed!

Supposing, though, that all appeals are exhausted and the Government is forced to debate Article 50 in Parliament. What would happen next?

Although a majority of MPs in the House of Commons were in favour of remaining in the European Union, circumstances have changed since the referendum and many would be reluctant to vote against the outcome. However, I can imagine a situation in which Parliament refuses to give approval to an Article 50 until it has sufficient knowledge of the Government’s negotiating position to be assured that the Government is not planning something reckless that would endanger the UK economically and/or politically. It is my personal belief that “something reckless” is precisely what the Government is planning, and that is why they were so keen not to have a vote in Parliament.

There was only one question on the ballot paper for the EU referendum – whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union or leave it. But what, if any, of the rights and benefits that currently accrue as a consequence of our membership of the EU can the UK keep if and when it leaves?  Who decides what rights can be removed from UK citizens?

There has been a lot of talk about “Hard BrExit” versus “Soft BrExit”. My personal view is that “Soft BrExit” (by which we would end up in a situation something like Norway) – which a sizable number of Leave voters envisaged when they voted – is not on the agenda at all. I think the Government is headed for a “Hard BrExit”, i.e. no membership of the internal market, no freedom of movement, no free movement of people, etc. That’s partly because of the ideological beliefs of the Tory cabinet and partly because that’s what the process pretty much guarantees. Article 50 is just about the UK leaving the European Union. That process has to be completed before any trade deals with the EU or other countries can be negotiated; such deals could take years to complete and in the meantime our economy will suffer. In the interim, we’ll be out with whatever the EU decides to allow us. I don’t think that will be very much at all.

I think that the Government knows that this outcome is not what a majority voted for, that it will have serious  economic consequences, and will produce a considerable political backlash. That is why the Government want to charge ahead as quickly as possible (in secret) so that nobody can stop them until it’s too late. In other words, they’re planning to use the referendum result as a pretext to further their own agenda. In order to this to work they have to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny. The High Court ruling – if it stands – effectively rules out this strategy. It is a victory for democracy.