By Kevan James
Daniel Moylan has been involved in London and national politics since the early 1990s, being at various times a councillor in Kensington and Chelsea, an officer of London Councils, a co-founder and co-Chairman of Urban Design London (a non-profit-making association of planning, design and transport professionals) and until 2016 Deputy Chairman of Transport for London under Boris Johnson and an adviser to the Mayor on various transport projects. He chaired the Mayor’s Design Advisory Group for much of the Johnson Mayoralty. He became Chairman of Tube Lines Holdings when it was acquired by TfL and was later the first Chairman of Crossrail 2 Limited. He was also a Non-Executive Director of Crossrail Limited and served as Chairman of the London Legacy Development Corporation during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
KJM: Members of Parliament (MPs) have something of a balancing act between representing the interests of their constituents and the interests of the country; if a constituency majority voted ‘leave’ in the EU referendum, should an MP from such a constituency be trying to frustrate, delay or stop Brexit?
DM: I hold with many others to Burke’s nostrum that MPs are representatives, not delegates. They have responsibilities to the whole nation as well as to their electors and to their conscience. But that does not amount to an endorsement of arbitrariness or waywardness. Just as we expect MPs to adhere to standards of disinterestedness and transparency, all the more do we expect them to take decisions that preserve the fundamentals of our democratic institutions. So an MP seeking actively to frustrate a decision solemnly made, at Parliament’s invitation, by tens of millions of people, needs to consider whether the damage done to trust in our democratic institutions is too great to justify giving his or her personal judgement priority on a particular issue.
KJM: And an MP from a constituency that had a majority for remaining in the EU; do they have the right to obstruct Brexit, or does the national interest (and the overall majority across the country) come first?
DM: The considerations are very similar. We are not discussing here matters of local option. Brexit is national business and preserving trust in our democracy is a national concern.
KJM: There have been calls for some MPs to be deselected by their constituencies as a result of the stance they have adopted over Brexit. Should they be?
DM: It’s a sad fact that in the two main parties now local selection is frequently overridden by central organisations, especially when an election arises unexpectedly. However, where local selection still prevails, Party members are fully entitled to take into account whether their MP has lived up to his or her election pledges. For example, there is no hint in the personal statement issued to his electors in 2017 by Mr Dominic Grieve that he was going to embark on a series of attempted constitutional innovations intended to prevent the government, which nominally he supports, from functioning. His selectors will want to ask, if he resubmits himself, which I doubt, whether they can believe a word he says.
KJM: There is a lot of confusion across the country, propagated by some within parliament, that the Withdrawal Agreement was, or is, the only ‘deal’ that matters. Yet the Withdrawal Agreement is just that – an agreement over how and under what terms the UK leaves the EU. Has this point specifically been either overlooked or ignored and should more emphasis have been placed on what the agreement actually was, in other words, stating more clearly that a deal that actually affects how we work with and live alongside the EU, has still to be negotiated?
DM: The Withdrawal Agreement is accompanied by a non-binding Political Declaration which is there to set out a path for negotiations about our future relationship. But in fact that future relationship is effectively determined by the (binding) Withdrawal Agreement, because the Irish backstop that it contains only allows the UK a free hand in those future negotiations if we are prepared to make a permanent economic and constitutional separation between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, something no British Prime Minister should be considering without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. To avoid that severance, the only future relationship that will work will be some form of association between the EU and the UK so close that we shall be perpetual rule-takers. The substance of Brexit will have been frustrated.
KJM: Again many ordinary people are perplexed as to the furore over the Withdrawal Agreement. Can you explain, in clear and unambiguous terms, what is wrong with it?
DM: The essential flaw in the Withdrawal Agreement is that the Irish backstop implicitly rests on a perpetual commitment, binding in international law, that the UK will not take steps that the EU considers would oblige them to erect a visible border on the island of Ireland. The EU interprets this as requiring Northern Ireland to remain in the EU Customs Union and parts of the EU Single Market “unless and until” the EU agrees some other arrangement.
The Withdrawal Agreement does not say the commitment is perpetual. It is cleverer than that. It contemplates a future arrangement that will replace the backstop. But of course the EU will insist in negotiating that future arrangement that Northern Ireland remain in the EU Customs Union and Single Market. If we say yes, then Northern Ireland remains under the thumb of the EU. And if we say no, it still remains under the EU’s thumb because that is what the Withdrawal Agreement provides for “unless and until” there is an agreement. It is the perfect snooker and we are on the receiving end.
With Northern Ireland permanently locked into the EU, Great Britain will have to choose between a global trading relationship and keeping the Union intact. No government should put the country in the position of having to make that choice.
KJM: What would be your alternative to a Withdrawal Agreement? Is one really necessary or is the EU’s insistence on one before discussing an actual trade and relationship deal the wrong stance from them?
DM: The Withdrawal Agreement should do what it was intended to do under the EU treaties: provide for a fair division of assets and liabilities and make provision for transitional measures such as (to take an example) what to do about cases brought by UK persons before the EU courts that have not been decided by exit day. It is completely the wrong place to seek to settle the long term question of the Irish border, since that is naturally a question for the future relationship. Since the only way of leaving the EU now open to us is to leave with this deal or to leave with no deal, and since this deal is wholly unacceptable, we shall have to manage leaving with no deal and sorting some of these issues out later.
KJM: You have argued the case for a ‘No Deal’ departure, meaning that the UK leaves the EU with no agreement on the terms of departure. This has been described as ‘crashing out’ and ‘disastrous’. Is it? And if not, why not?
DM: My preferred course would be a fair and equitable Withdrawal Agreement, but that is not on offer. The reason you might want a less sudden departure from the EU, with a little more notice, is that you believe that businesses and government agencies would use the time to prepare for leaving the EU. They have had two years to do that and they have largely used the time to undermine Brexit rather then shape it at the technical level suited to their disparate industries and functions. Would they change their behaviour if they had more time? I doubt it. So there will be a degree of short term disruption whenever we leave, as markets get used to new ways of doing things. I don’t think that will be reduced by delay. The EU is rightly and busily preparing for No deal. We should be doing so too.
KJM: I have stated, both in my book (‘Comments of a Common Man’) and in my column on KJM Today, that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU should be supported by a clear statement that the UK is not and will not turn its back on the EU, but will remain a friend and ally as well as a strong and reliable partner to it and its member countries.
Do you agree?
DM: We want friends and allies all over the world. Why should we want enemies? Of course we want to remain friends with the EU and with all of its nations.
KJM: It has been said, innumerable times, that the departure of the UK from the EU is ‘difficult’, and it has proved to be. Is that due to politicians and bureaucrats manoeuvring, both here and in the EU, and thus making it so, or is it because there are real difficulties. If so, what is so difficult about it?
DM: Both. There are real difficulties arising from the intricate web of relationships that have been legally incorporated into our way of doing things over the last 48 years. But the remarkable thing is that we have a government and a bureaucracy that, instead of using the available time to work out how to unpick them, has spent two years negotiating a deal designed to mean they stay the same. The government has aimed for a “no change” Brexit (except on Freedom of Movement). That was a grievous error. The vote for Brexit was a vote for change, not no change.
KJM: The parliamentary vote against the Withdrawal Agreement was the biggest defeat for any government in British history. Does this necessarily mean that the Prime Minister should, or must, resign? If so, who should replace her and how would any new PM come up with something different?
DM: The PM has the support of her Party and should stay in office while that endures. But, with her Withdrawal Agreement dead beyond reprieve now, if we are heading to a No Deal Brexit, my advice would be that she consider in April if a Prime Minister with more enthusiasm for that option wouldn’t be better placed to lead the country through it.
KJM: Should there be a second referendum? If there was, in your view, would that be a betrayal of the first (or of democracy or anything else) and do you think the result would be another narrow result, either way.
DM: I don’t think there should be another referendum at least before we leave the EU, because I think it would be impossible to frame or conduct it in a way that gave it legitimacy. In particular, the framing of the question would be highly contentious and, whatever question was chosen, there would be a large number of people who felt that it was rigged to give a particular outcome.
KJM: If a second referendum resulted in another relatively narrow majority for leaving the EU, would those who voted to remain accept it or continue to try and change it? If so, how and by what right? And if the result was narrowly in favour of remaining, would the same apply to leavers who had now lost, having won the first?
DM: If the vote to leave the EU is not honoured, in substance as well as letter, then the topic of Brexit will remain at the heart of British politics until it is. You cannot now put Humpty together again. The outcome of a second referendum will be irrelevant.
KJM: What might, or should, be the question or questions put to the electorate in a second referendum?
DM: The only possible question is the one asked before: Leave or Remain. It would be pointless putting on a ballot paper a Withdrawal Agreement that Parliament won’t pass. But if we do effectively rerun the first referendum, as this would do, you should also expect a possible boycott campaign that would further delegitimise it.
KJM: Is there any real prospect of a general election and is one really desirable? Or for that matter, necessary?
DM: A General Election is always a prospect when you have a minority government. Is it desirable? Not before we leave on March 29.
KJM: Speculation has mounted that the political landscape is changing and that the two major parties, Conservative and Labour, have lost the confidence of a significant portion of the electorate. Many people have stated that they will no longer vote for either. If that proves to be the case, if people do not vote at all, then a minority party may well come to govern the UK. Is that a realistic prospect and if so, would such a minority party represent some kind of danger? If so, what?
DM: Yes, the vote for Brexit was a revolutionary act, in a quietly British way. The political parties have simply failed to grasp this and to respond. If they don’t, they are likely to disappear.
KJM: If people do vote, but not for the Conservatives or for Labour, where might voters go? What parties are there that could realistically be strong enough to aspire to govern?
DM: Who is to tell? Lord Glasman quotes Gramsci: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
KJM: I’ve long held the view that not only should people vote, but they must. I would not however, like to see voting being made compulsory. What’s your view?
DM: There are already too many things that are compulsory.
KJM: Rather than not vote at all, having attended an election count and seen how it is done, spoilt ballot papers are separated from the rest and shown to the candidates. If people really felt that candidates were not for them, should they then spoil their papers, put them in the ballot box and let them be counted – if a majority of voters did so (particularly a significant majority), could the candidate who did secure the highest number of remaining votes really claim a mandate?
DM: An interesting speculation, but happily the number of spoilt or disputed ballot papers at most British elections is normally marginal.
KJM: With that in mind, should ‘None of the Above’ be an option for voters? And if it was and a majority voted for none, should any of the existing candidates stand again or new people selected?
DM: I would prefer a return to the older system, that prevailed for centuries until the nineteenth: that if an MP accepts office as a Minister he has to stand again for his seat in a by-election, so that his electors can validate his participation in government.
KJM: Changing the subject, commercial aviation plays a strong role within KJM Today; our ability to connect with the rest of the world is important and, regardless of the eventual end of the Brexit process, London continues to be the destination of choice for huge numbers of people, both for business and for the tourism industry. Should Heathrow get its third runway? If not, capacity needs to increase so what realistic alternatives are there?
DM: Heathrow is simply in the wrong place. It should not grow. But we do need a well functioning hub airport and so we should close Heathrow and open a new airport to the east of London to replace it. Heathrow occupies as much land in London as a whole London borough and the site would allow a whole new town to be built in London, to help accommodate our burgeoning population.
KJM: When I was very young I lived in West London and aircraft on their way into Heathrow were noticeably noisy. Today, they are significantly quieter and will get quieter still as engine technology advances. There may even come a time when the sound of a jet airliner will be barely heard. Why has this point not been made more of by those supporting the new runway at Heathrow?
DM: They haven’t made the point because it isn’t true. Although modern planes are quieter than those made forty or so years a go (many of which are still flying), aero-engine manufacturers will tell you that they have reached the practical limit of noise reduction. That is why we need an airport built away from where people live.
KJM: HS1, from the Channel Tunnel to London St Pancras was built without any noticeable protest. HS2 is another matter; is it a white elephant that should be scrapped and if so, why?
DM: HS2 is now so expensive and so behind that I think the government should initiate a review to see if it is still value for money.
KJM: There have been several moves to shift various things away from London; the BBC to Manchester, Channel 4 to Leeds (at some point) – yet London is the capital city. Is being London-centric a valid criticism? Or is that something of a myth?
DM: Large cities are hugely productive and great generators of prosperity and human fulfilment. London is one of the largest and greatest cities on earth. We are lucky to have it.
Daniel Moylan, thank you.