In a way, I don’t really want to do this – attacking the intellectually incapable is as morally palatable as cavorting in a graveyard or shitting on a swan – but sometimes they must be slapped down, hard. While seemingly cute, the ideas of the cognitively tepid must be dealt with severely as and when they infringe on far bigger things which they appear incapable of understanding. A kitten playing with a ball of string is adorable. A kitten playing with a ball of string across the controls of an aeroplane is not.
It is in this context that I introduce my foil, @redhotsquirrel, alias Robert Kimbell, alias Robert Simon Spurrier-Kimbell, a self-styled ‘well-travelled geopolitics aficionado.’ I could have chosen any number of mad Eurosceptic tweeters, but this one cropped up first. Further stalking reveals he stood for UKIP in a local election down in Brighton last year, unsuccessfully, and failed to get into the UKIP NEC as well. According to LinkedIn, he may or may not have worked for the Financial Services Authority as a technical specialist, or may or may not possibly be an independent management consultant (I didn’t want to pry too far otherwise I might have told him I was there, thus breaking the first rule of stalking).
According to Klear.com, he is in the top 0.5% of social media users – doubtless on a quantitative rather than qualitative basis. His activity is ‘crazy’, his popularity is ‘celeb’ and his responsiveness is ‘very friendly.’ I wonder if he will still be ‘very friendly’ when I dump this on his internet. He averages 123.2 tweets per day, gets a solid 8 retweets for every tweet and has an impressive 11.5K followers. He is what you might call a big fish in the UKIP pond.
I wish him well for all of this, so far. Genuinely, I do not grudge him any of this– he puts my own rather feeble efforts at online imperialism to shame.
What really grates with me, however, is the utter skull-numbing stupidity that he propounds – and the total juxtaposition of this with the air of knowledgeable superiority with which he propounds it. People like this, when given too much power and influence, tend to presage terrible things happening – e.g. the sinking of the Titanic, the Taiping/Boxer Rebellions and the fall of the Roman Empire.
|Hong Xiuquan - convinced a bunch of non-Christian Chinese peasants that he was Jesus' brother so they needed to kill 20 million people and start a theocracy - seems reasonable|
For a start, he gets hung up on the most trivial issues – like the colour blue on the British passport. I don’t need to point out to anyone that the substance of his gripe is utterly irrelevant to the Brexit debate, and frankly, is pretty bloody childish. However, this nostalgic fanaticism is tangibly damaging to the Eurosceptic cause because, like it or not, he is single-handedly strengthening all of the straw-man arguments with which far more competent leavers will be faced in the minds of the undecided.
Do you want your true deep blue British passport back?— Robert Kimbell (@RedHotSquirrel) February 14, 2016
Then, there is what passes for his economic analysis. Kimbell has yet to learn endlessly citing trade figures proves literally nothing more than the fact that you have read some rather lengthy, boring reports in your spare time, which probably says more about you than the reports – it does not make you some kind of guru on trade. He may as well be tweeting War and Peace for all of the relevance and expertise he brings to the debate. Tweeting that, ‘The UK exports a tasty £1.5 billion to x country, which is not the EU. We can Brexit,’ is, in substitute for a tirade of potentially libellous foul language decrying his total ridiculousness on my part, a non sequitur (a conclusion that does not follow from the premises).
The UK exported goods worth £5.0bn to South Korea last year, £2.8bn to Russia, £1.2bn Taiwan, £1.2bn Israel, £0.6bn to Kuwait. #Brexit— Robert Kimbell (@RedHotSquirrel) February 14, 2016
Why should the fact that the UK exports to somewhere else mean anything in terms of the Brexit debate? It does not even show if this trade with x country is going up, down or sideways. It does not even provide a context for this trade – e.g. what industries it is in. It does not provide any argument about how that trade would be impacted by the legal implications of a Brexit, or how on the other hand, trade with Europe can be safeguarded and improved in the future. It does not mention what the existing arrangements are - e.g. do we have sectoral free trade deals? It is merely a statement of existence – as far as constructing arguments goes, you may as well try to make a fire by rubbing grass together. Oh, wait, I’m sorry – he covers all of the legal and technical mechanisms of Brexit here:
The UK can leave the EU by amending the 1972 European Communities Act to state that all future EU law does not apply in the UK and Gibraltar— Robert Kimbell (@RedHotSquirrel) February 13, 2016
Despite the fact that Kimbell’s precious trade statistics would literally fall through the floor if Britain did as above by de facto removing us from the single market, it is a breach of treaty obligations under international law – something that Britain tends to respect in principle, not just because we would be bent over by the entire European Commission if we started ripping up inopportune bits of paper.
WTO rules imply that if we left, under the Most Favoured Nation system, we would have to allow access to the goods of the EU countries’ trade on the conditions which we set for everyone else – meaning that the only way to block EU goods would be to launch a trade war upon pretty much the entire world (apart from North Korea). As a Regional Trade Agreement, the EU is not bound by the same rules – they could impose conditions on UK goods entering the single market as they can any other third party. Effectively, upon leaving the EU through Kimbell’s route, we would have to swallow whatever the EU served us.
And for the MILLIONTH time, it would be tantamount to impossible to negotiate a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement in the two years that Article 50 allows – let alone the prospective zero years that repealing the European Communities Act of 1972 would probably give us. Other similar deals (e.g. Switzerland) have taken several decades to delineate, and even then are totally unsatisfactory because they seem to have to undergo a constant process of renegotiation anyway, especially regarding immigration – another one of Kimbell’s hot topics. Leaving should be an amicable long-term process – not a sudden break followed by endless arguments over who keeps the house, the car and the kids.
Kimbell also does not appear to understand the free trade deals which he is so keen on plugging, given that again and again he makes crucial mistakes. His entire analysis is limited to Free Trade Agreements – yet the OECD lists 11 separate mechanisms through which countries can cooperate on trade. Just because the EU does not have formal bespoke FTAs with many countries around the world, it does not mean that the EU does not have a degree of free trade with them through other legal arrangements. So when Kimbell says that by leaving the EU we could sign FTAs with India, China, Australia and Japan, he is technically correct because we could sign FTAs with them.
However, this totally neglects to mention all of the other free trade arrangements which the EU already has with said countries, and the fact that modern trade is far more suited to smaller, more flexible sectoral deals. Kimbell is right, almost certainly unintentionally, because of his choice of wording not his sentiment, which is still clearly wrong – stopped clocks tell the time twice a day but it does not mean that they are useful.
This relentless barrage of trade statistics, which Kimbell shows no signs of being able to use/understand in any meaningful way, does not ever let up. Not even for Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve. One can only assume that the traditional yuletide lunch was so ruined by the endless repetition of trade statistics that it ended unseasonably early, with all participants probably still sober and rather bored – thus allowing our protagonist to return to his computer to continue his economic Tourette’s.
Another part of Kimbell’s well-worn repertoire is his aversion towards mass immigration, another position epitomised by his characteristic subtle nuance.
Kimbell’s response to such an inflammatory issue is rather alarmingly blunt – the same as if, on being told that you had cancer, and that an operation might work, you decide to go in yourself with some booze and a steak-knife immediately rather than wait for the grinding machinery of the NHS to kick into action. I guess I will have to explain the immigration-government nexus simply.
Membership of the EU supports mass immigration. The British government, on both sides of the house, supports mass immigration. Therefore, both constraints will have to be altered/removed in order to reduce immigration. If we were to elect an anti-immigrant government tomorrow, it could not reduce migration because of membership of the EU. Similarly, if we left the EU, migration would not decrease because the government is still pro-migration (Osborne’s budget figures require 185,000 migrants, and non-EU migration is running at an all-time high).
Now, we get to the crux of the matter. Leaving the EU, in the way in which Mr. Kimbell so fervently advocates, will NOT reduce migration or allow us to ‘control our borders’ (a meaningless platitude, in that it is only a very small part of immigration policy, demonstrating once more Mr. Kimbell’s lack of ability to grasp complexities). We will still have a pro-migration government – at least until 2020, but much more likely, indefinitely.
However, what we will have done is left the Single Market, leaving our trade in the lurch and ruining any chance that we might have had of getting a reasonable deal with the EU.
Now, for Kimbell and the Kimbellites to achieve their goal of reducing migration, they will still have to leave the EU and change the government. We get a chance to change the government every five years; we get a chance to leave the EU possibly once a generation, if that – I will probably be retired next time there is a vote. Clearly, therefore, leaving the EU at all costs is paramount to Kimbell’s position as the only way of cutting migration in the future (through the removal of one of two obstacles to cutting migration) – but the insistence that we adopt a ruinous exit plan, or lack thereof, just so Kimbell and his followers can have their masochistic wet dream while ruining the chances of the campaign by alienating most undecided voters is utterly unacceptable.
The number one question over the coming months, from the gloating remain side and the confused undecideds, will be ‘what does Brexit look like?’ This is a perfectly legitimate question – and frankly, talk of blue passports, strong borders and dwindling trade looks to the ordinary person like a developing nightmare, a nostalgic dystopia for an age which never actually existed. No one will vote for that vision – apart from people who already support Kimbell.
Hence, Flexcit – a plan that alleviates all concerns regarding economics and adopts the gradualist approach. Flexcit nullifies the inevitable torrent of fear, uncertainty and doubt which will be used against the leave campaign. Flexcit actually allows the public to decide on one simple question, undistracted by the immediate consequences (because there will not be any) – ‘do I want to be a part of a supranational union or do I want parliament to be sovereign over a British nation state?’ The beauty of Flexcit is that it boils down the entire debate to that question, an eminently winnable proposition, by eliminating all immediate contingent concerns – such as trade, such as migration, etc. Once parliament is sovereign, the whole implication is that parliament can then do as it likes, more or less, regarding trade and migration – but not before. The power of parliament, and hence the power of democracy, is the key issue at stake. We cannot allow ourselves to get side-tracked.
Overcoming the ‘tyranny of the status quo’ will be hard enough when the economic argument is nullified; it will be nigh on impossible if we have to deal with a boat-tonne of Kimbell’s crap tagged onto the end as well.
Flexcit doesn't solve the border control issue and means we still must adopt EU laws. Brexit with a free trade agreement is the answer.— Robert Kimbell (@RedHotSquirrel) January 13, 2016
So, what does Kimbell think of Flexcit? Apart from clearly never having read it (otherwise he would drop the bit about EU laws and wouldn’t treat it as a middle option between Brexit and remaining) or having read much about it, he is not in favour. Which is why I feel the need to slap him down. I am more than happy for the blissfully ignorant to play around in their own negative feedback loops. I am not more than happy, however, for him to propagate his idiocy around Flexcit unchallenged, because after surveying the crowded field, it is the only thing that can win us that vote – short of pure incompetence on the remain side.
Briefly, Flexcit is not some kind of middle route – Flexcit gets us through Brexit and beyond, but much less forcefully than picking up the phone to Brussels, shouting for ten minutes about migrants and the Second World War and then telling them that they can keep their fucking cheese because we’re leaving and you can’t come in before ringing off. Flexcit is like climbing a hill; the latter is like climbing a cliff. Both leave the EU, but one might break your back at the same time.
@RedHotSquirrel Flexit plan is poorly researched piece of excrement. It will have Schengen included, despite what its proponents sau.— Triple P (@PurfleetPPP) January 13, 2016
Of course, I don’t expect all that much of Kimbell’s merry men. The fact that Kimbell is backed up by the combined intellectual firepower of ‘Big_Bad_John_4’ and ‘Triple P’ does not particularly worry me because we have rationality on my side, even though the latter’s allegation that Flexcit ‘is a poorly researched piece of excrement’ does gall slightly having seen the huge amount of work and effort poured in by Dr. North. But then again, why would you need Dr. North’s pages and pages of legal analysis when you can explain the entire situation in one tweet, as Kimbell can?
#Putin says the #Syria #ceasefire deal has so far been 'very successful', hopes to make more deals in the future pic.twitter.com/GepbvXE85q— Sputnik (@Sputnik_Not) February 14, 2016
All of this is notwithstanding his copious use of the Russian state propaganda (oh, I'm sorry, 'media') outlets to explain the war in Syria, which degrades anyone in my eyes. For example, posting a link from Sputnik saying that the area surrounding Aleppo is being liberated, despite the fact that Aleppo is now in a virtual state of siege that could potentially make Sarajevo look like a primary school play - obviously, Western media is to blame. As are the imperialist Western Air Forces for blowing up another MSF hospital - in an area that only Russia is bombing. OK, yes, the picture above is a parody - not even Sputnik would be able to pull that off with a straight face.
I would at least give him credit for publicising Flexcit to his 11.5K followers – but the cretin frequently spells it wrong anyway, meaning that they probably won’t be able to find it (given that the Flexit is a Norwegian air handling unit company).