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Political Arguments
Publication date: 2017-02-22

Anatomy of a Political Argument

Diagnosis and Cure

Here is an argument about Brexit that took place in the Comments Section of an article in the Financial Times, which is presented here in tabular form.

The interesting side of this argument is that "Side B" (starting from #2), according to himself, is a barrister with two degrees in law, who worked as a professional and in-house, in a financial institution as a lawyer. And he have even translated ECJ decisions for the Foreign Office. And he also happened to be an elected politician and is connected with economics (banking, consulting and funds management).

His manner of argument and way of thinking sheds light on why even simple things in the world of politics become "very complex".

It also happens to be a symptom of a much more serious illness to which it helps to find a cure.

Political Argument
# Side A Side B Comment
1

There is an obvious and glaring confusion between 2 issues:

  1. UK exiting the EU - not different from ending any contractual relationship:
    1. (a) formal notification,

      (b) physical termination of the existing interactions.

    The decision to exit has been made pursuant to an Act of Parliament, and the government must implement it without any further need for parliamentary involvement.

  2. UK relationships with the EU after the Exit.
  3. This cannot happen until the Exit has been completed.

    And this will involve different agreements requiring parliamentary acts, and this will be part of normal parliamentary procedures.

    This activity is not limited in time, but is part of the UK and the EU being neighbours.

But the 2 above issues have been fused into a single process which prevents these 2 issues from being resolved.

And this is why all the current arguments about "Brexit", in all its various "shades", are nothing but confused illogical political stances which create confusion without any positive results.

And this confusion is set to continue for the next 2 years or more.

Just another political game which will bring politicians in still further disrepute.

I would find your analysis more convincing if you knew how to spell the word 'Parliament'.

On the point about it being no different to 'any contractual relationship', this is a gross oversimplification of the issues, as if a car financing deal or newspaper subscription can reasonably be thought analogous to Brexit.

The word "Parliament" was spelled "Parlaiment".

Discussion forums have poor (or no) spell-checking and very limited (or no) editing facilities.

Most comments have typos, and most people know it and do not bother to point them out, but deal with the substance of the comments.

Side B uses the word "analogous" in the sense of "the same", or "equal".

But the proper meaning of it is "similar in structure, procedural steps, etc, although different in content, detail, etc".

For example, the body structures of cats, lions and even dogs are "analogous" (head, body, 4 legs), but they are "different" animals.

Any "reasonably thinking" person, familiar with agreements and their termination would know (and understand) that they all have analogous procedure: (1) give notice, (2) end all the ongoing relationships arising out of the agreement within the notice period.

Although the content, time scales, and actions needed to be taken will differ. That is, they are analogous, not equal.

Such improper use of words is common in arguments, as is being misled by the "magnitude" of the transaction, and thinking that the magnitude makes the procedure more complex.

But the sale procedure of a country mansion surrounded by acres of land and the sale of a 2-bedroom terraced house are the same and do not depend on the size or value of the property sold: exchange of money for a signed transfer document.

Such imprecise thinking, as exhibited by Side B, is normal in casual conversations, but is not acceptable in legal transactions, especially in transactions involving governments.

The answer to Side B by Side A follows in #2 (below).

2

Thanks for pointing out a typo.

You've noticed the typo, but have failed to understand the content.

1(a) The process of notification is not different from termination of any agreement - yes a car deal, or a subscription.

1(b) "physical termination of the existing interactions" is not as "simple" as your examples and would take longer (2 years?), rather than 1 month, but the principle is the same: the existing relationships are brought to a close.

But no competently drafted termination clause of an agreement would require to negotiate some future relationships as part of the termination process.

For example, Article 127 EEA (the EFTA membership termination clause) has only one requirement for the exiting state: one year's notice.

It is common for politicians, when faced with an argument they do not like, to dismiss it by saying "it's complex", rather than seeking to understand the "complexity", which usually is the result of false assumptions, and political stances.

But, if the issue is de-politicised, and the parties concentrate on the real issues, then confusion, caused by political stances and ideologies and justified by "complexity", is replaced with clarity and becomes just another straight-forward business transaction, bigger than a "car deal", and longer to implement, but nevertheless just another business deal.

It's the political games and stances that cause the complexity and confusion.

Unutterably dumb.

I appreciate we FT readers should respect each other, but really.

And I fear you won't even understand what is intellectually, logically, politically and socially wrong with your comment.

Where to begin?

Side B in #1 above did not answer #2 of Side A, but another person did.

And the rest of the argument proceeds with that other person, who has 2 law degrees and is both a "politician" and an "economist", as it emerged in the exchanges that followed.

3

Where to begin?

Here is the template for you to fill in:

1. Intellectually wrong:

... (your explanations: what wrong, why wrong)

2. Logically wrong:

... (your explanations: what wrong, why wrong)

3. Politically wrong:

... (your explanations: what wrong, why wrong)

4. Socially wrong:

... (your explanations: what wrong, why wrong)

The points on which you are commenting are few and straight-forward, and, if you find any errors, it is not difficult to point them out.

But it is "intellectually wrong" to say that a statement is wrong without explanation.

Such bland dismissals without giving reasons are commonly used by politicians in their arguments.

The argument becomes:

A: "You are wrong!"

B: "No, you are wrong!"

A: "You will not understand!"

B: "No, you will not understand!"

Is there any logic in such argument?

It is certainly "politically motivated", and even "socially accepted", but is it "socially useful"?

I agree with your comment on my comment.

It is not right to offer criticism without specificity.

That said, to take your first point, that the cancellation of membership, of the EU is like cancelling a car HP contract, it is I hope clear to all that a car is a totally different package of rights than membership of the EU.

The principle: I cancel my membership is the same ... cancellation, but the legal reality of the range of details and their impact in the case of the different cancellations is utterly different.

Only a person devoid of common sense would fail to see the factual, logical, legal ... &c differences.

I shan't waste my time on you, as every FT reader will understand the difference that you fail to get.

There was no suggestion by Side A, that a car is the same "package of rights" as membership of the EU.

Nor did Side A suggest that "the range of details and their impact in the case of the different cancellations" are the same.

But Side B puts such suggestions into Side A's mouth.

Such misinterpretations of an opponent's argument are very common among politicians and incompetent or unethical "crooked" lawyers. It is a known logical fallacy (false argument) - "The Straw Man Fallacy".

In a Straw Man Fallacy the opponent's argument is misrepresented to make it obviously wrong, then this argument (The Straw Man with which the real argument is replaced) is refuted.

But this is not always deliberate.

It is common for people, when reading a text, especially from a source which they expect (or want) to be wrong, to understand it, not as it is written, but as it fits with their expectations and beliefs.

Often it takes a few readings of a text, before such person begins to understand the proper meaning of what he reads.

On the other hand, a text containing false facts or illogical statements which happen to fit in with the reader's prejudices and beliefs is accepted as true, without questioning, because it confirms what the reader wants to believe.

4

- "but the legal reality of the range of details and their impact in the case of the different cancellations is utterly different"?

Yes, in magnitude, not in principle.

The "legal reality of the range of details" affects only the length of the notice period required to wind up the existing relationships, and the amount of work and cost of the activities involved.

The legal reality of the cancellation of any contract is that all the obligations of the parties towards each other arising out of the contract cease to exist. And this is true for any contract.

The impact of this cessation on the parties will depend on the substance of the contract and will be different from contract to contract.

But this "impact" is not part of the exit procedure.

It is the consequence of the termination of the contract, and the party terminating the contract has already made the decision to end the contract and to accept the consequences of the termination regardless of the magnitude of their "impact".

Otherwise it would not be terminating the contract. This is again true of any contract.

But practically all the present arguments relating to "Brexit" are not about the details of the termination procedure, but about the future "impact" of the termination itself, that is the post-Brexit relationships between the UK and the EU.

This is certainly an area where the involvement of the Parliament is inevitable, because it involves changes in the UK legislation.

But this is not part of the termination procedure. It is part of the life after the exit has been completed.

Making the negotiations about the future part of the exit procedure makes this procedure unnecessarily complex and uncertain, both as to its time scale and its practical outcome.

And the most likely result of such negotiations is that they will not produce the desired result and will make the task of the [orderly] termination of the existing relationships more difficult, or even impossible ("the cliff" situation).

That is, not only the attempt "to have the cake and eat it" will fail, but the existing relationships will be terminated in a hap-hazard way, causing confusion and damage to the parties.

But, because you (and many others here) are too preoccupied with your pre-Referendum arguments and "economic" speculations about the future, you neither see, nor understand, the "legal reality" you are talking about.

You just continue with your "political" arguments, and anything which does not fit into your political arguments you dismiss as "devoid of common sense" and failure "to see the factual, logical, legal.... &c differences".

And this without even understanding the substance of what you are commenting on.

And this is typical of all political arguments - politicians do not seek to understand the reality, but twist it to make it fit into their stances and ideologies.

And this is why Brexit is such a mess, and will continue to be so for some time to come.

I hesitate to continue, but your point is either trivial or misses the real issues, legal, economic, social and political.

It's easy to say, as you drive a train off the end of an unfinished bridge 'that was easy', but in any case, the case of Brexit, you are looking at neither a single, simple contractual exit, nor a decision to be described as 'as simple as a car purchase contract'.

On law. I have two degrees in law. I am also a barrister. I have worked as a professional and in-house, in a financial institution as a lawyer.

I have even translated ECJ decisions for the FO, so I think I have a passing acquaintance with how the law works, not least in international affairs and cross-border regulation.

Your description of the constitutional position is wrong, as the Supreme Court will shortly confirm.

You ignore the fact that 'Brexit' is a political act involving exits from myriad agreements and laws, not a single, two party 'contract'.

What more can I say?

Certainly, no informed FT commentator will agree with you, but if you think I am ignorant of the law, politics and Europe, fine.

Dream on.

Side B misses the point of Side A's argument, but seeks to support his argument by citing his "qualifications".

He also keeps pointing out the "complexity of Brexit".

And this in spite of the clear statement by Side A that he accepts that the "magnitude" of the transaction is different, and that it will affect the time and the cost of winding up the existing relationships.

And in spite of Side B's own acceptance (#3 above) that "the principle: I cancel my membership is the same ... cancellation".

Side B is partly right, however, that "no informed FT commentator will agree with you [Side A]", because many (but not all) of FT commentators do share the political views of Side B and his ways of understanding of what he reads.

5

The fact that you find it necessary to support your argument by saying: "I have two degrees in law. I am also a barrister" rather than arguing the case on its merits is not in your favour.

And it is truly sad that barristers with two degrees in law cannot see the substance of an argument, and instead trivialise it by restating it in an absurd way (Straw Man Fallacy).

The point you are arguing against is not that the complexity, duration, and cost of all contracts are the same. This depends on the nature of the contract and can vastly differ. And this was pointed to you but you ignored it.

The point put to you is that the termination of a contract should not depend on another agreement about some future relationships, but should be limited only to ending the relationships arising out of the contract.

And it is this agreement about future relationships (that should not have been part of the termination process) that is causing the arguments and has already caused two court cases. And this confusion and arguments will continue.

But, if the termination process would not be mixed up with the relationships about the future, but limited to ending the currently active interactions (no matter how many or how complex), then these court cases would not have even taken place.

The future relationships should be dealt with where they rightfully belong - after the exit has been completed.

Not only this would have been legally and logically right, but it would have been much easier to achieve positive results, because it is easier to negotiate single issues on their merits one-by-one, rather than trying to negotiate a single agreement comprising all the future relationships between the UK and the EU.

And that from within a termination procedure the date of which is dependant on the outcome of the negotiations, or - a sudden cut-off at 2 years without any agreements even relating to the termination of the current relationships.

From your previous posts you looked like a politician, or economist (both a notoriously muddle-headed lot). But a lawyer?

Have a look at: Why UK Must Amend Article 50 and How.

Since you are good enough to stick to the issues, let me carry on.

If a lawyer advises a client on the principle and says: "It is clear and simple. Cancellation is legally straightforward."

And does not consider the consequences, he is getting his function and role back to front.

He gives legal advice to guide his client, not to obscure vital consequences.

You are right that I have had connections with (Tory) elected politics. Was elected in fact. And that I am connected with economics (banking, consulting and funds management).

Not exactly qualifications to comment, but neither the disqualifications you imply such links might be.

You introduce a 'should' - that the consequences should not form part of the assessment of the Art. 50 notice.

That seems jejune.

A barrister with 2 law degrees does not understand that issuing a notice to terminate an agreement is based on the assumption that the client knows and accepts the consequences of the termination?

It is obvious, that issuing a notice to terminate the agreement will have the consequences that this agreement and all the relationships arising out of will come to an end.

So the only "assessment of the Art. 50 notice" should have been whether the wording of Article 50 fulfills the purpose of a termination agreement.

Such "assessment" has not been carried out by the UK Government, or, if it had been, the results of it have been ignored.

Side A draws Side B's attention to such assessment at Why UK Must Amend Article 50 and How.

Side B's statement "Since you are good enough to stick to the issues" shows that he did try to brush off Side A's argument by trivializing it and thus diverting it from the real issue by using the Straw Man Fallacy, because it did not fit with Side B's own "political" views.

6

The "consequences" of termination of a contract should be, and are presumed to have been considered, BEFORE the decision to terminate the contract, not AFTER sending the notice of termination.

At the time the termination of contract notice is given, the "consequences" have already been accepted by the client.

Of course, it is possible, to say: "sorry, I've changed my mind", and ask to withdraw the notice.

But in this case the decision has been made by a referendum, and the government is faced with the choice to implement the decision, to openly reject it ("It was an opinion poll"), or to try some watering down or a "long grass" exercise.

All of which would have consequences.

The government has chosen to implement the referendum decision.

We both of us knew that the government appeal would fail. It has failed.

It has failed because they had stuck to a wrong argument ("The Royal Prerogative"), and because the "deal about the future" they still hope to make does require parliamentary scrutiny.

And now they have got themselves in a mess.

They could get a vote to "trigger A50", but for the Parliament to agree a replacement "deal about the future" with all its details within 2 years, and to have it accepted by the EU?

Any chance of getting anywhere?

The consequences?

Two years of talks, jitters and uncertainty, then "off the cliff"?

The only way out for the government is to reduce the A50 deal to an agreement about a time period to terminate the existing relationships without any agreements about the future. Which is what A50 should have been in the first place.

In this case there would not be much to discuss either in Parliament, or with the EU. This could be done within a few months.

And it would give them time to transit to the new status in a controlled way.

That is first 100% out with a time period to end all the current transactions (some could be adapted to the new status), then any deals they want, subject to parliamentary scrutiny and the EU acceptance.

You simply don't understand.

You assert that the discussion should have been held before the exit decision, and therefore (as the referendum decided everything), there should now be no delay or hesitation.

But the referendum was neither specific as to mechanisms, nor binding in law.

And, as the SC judgment makes clear, the situation is a very far cry from exiting a simple contract.

Read the judgment.

Then reflect on whether you or I is correct in saying it is simple.

You assert the simplicity on the basis that we simply drop everything and have no agreements, treaties or laws covering what the EU relationship currently covers.

There is no evidence that is what the referendum signalled, or what the vote indicated people want.

Though I do at least understand it is what you want.

A simple contractual cancellation, it most certainly is not.

Again Side B puts into Side A's mouth "we simply drop everything and have no agreements, treaties or laws covering what the EU relationship currently covers".

He also suggests to read the Supreme Court judgement, which like the previous High Court judgement dealt with the issue of "Parliamentary Sovereignty", which was irrelevant to the issue of the termination.

The duties and powers to terminate the EU treaties was implied by the Referendum Act 2015, and were it not for the defects of Article 50, which was suggesting negotiations about the future, the issue of Parliamentary Sovereignty would not have arisen.

Side B, as well as many politicians and journalists, advance "theories" about what "the referendum signalled", or "what the vote indicated people want". And they seek to interpret these "signals" and "indications" to suit their own political stances and ideologies.

But the Referendum was only about one single choice "STAY" or "LEAVE". And the reasons why each individual voter had made his choice are neither possible to know, nor are they relevant. - Another example of politicians seeking to advance false theories to suit their politics.

Side B's statement "Though I do at least understand it is what you want" is also noteworthy.

Side A did not express any "wishes". His argument is limited to the exit procedure, and does not deal with what relationships will exist between the UK and EU after the leave.

Again Side B introduces into the arguments points which are not part of the argument, but reflect his own political stance. He is not arguing with what Side A says, but with his own assumptions about what Side A says.

7

- "Then reflect on whether you or I is correct in saying it is simple."

The "simplicity" should be understood as "clarity" and "logical consistence", not triviality.

- "You assert the simplicity on the basis that we simply drop everything and have no agreements, treaties or laws covering what the EU relationship currently covers"

No. There was no such suggestion.

But any "agreements, treaties or laws covering what the EU relationship currently covers", will not be negotiated as part of the exit process (A50), but will be replaced by agreements and treaties between the UK and the EU as independent entities after the UK becomes formally independent of the EU. (this can be faster than 2 years).

And the "laws": the EU laws will cease to apply within the UK, and the UK laws currently having references to the EU laws, will be amended accordingly. This is the legal implication of leaving the EU.

These new UK agreements, treaties and laws will be for the UK government and Parliament to decide, and, in case of the agreements and treaties, to be accepted by the EU.

Although the stay/leave sides campaigned for various specific policies, the referendum did not specify any particular relationships after the leave. It was limited to only one single choice: STAY or LEAVE.

And "leave" means termination of the membership. It does not specify any particular relationships after the leave. They can be the same, closer, or none at all.

And all the pre-referendum arguments about what the relationships should be will continue after the leave.

But they will be conducted in a different context: the context of the UK laws, agreements, and treaties. Not in the context of the EU membership.

The fallacy here is to confuse the pre-referendum stances with the referendum result. They influenced the result, but they are not part of the decision.

The decision was IN/OUT, not what UK laws will be after the LEAVE.

- "But the referendum was neither specific as to mechanisms, nor binding in law."

The Referendum Act did not say anything about either, but from the D. Cameron's initial promise and to the very end of the referendum campaign it was conducted as if it were binding.

And this makes it de facto binding, at least in the eyes of those who voted in it.

And for the government to announce: "Sorry, but it was not a real referendum that we made you believe it was, it was just an opinion poll. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. WE, not YOU, will decide what to do now", would have its "consequences", which the government decided not to countenance.

Have a look at: Brexit Judgement Review.

It has a detailed analysis of "Referendum 2016 - Binding or Advisory?" as well as the other issues considered at the Hight Court hearing, and the SC appeal.

- "There is no evidence that is what the referendum signalled, or what the vote indicated people want"

As noted above, the referendum decision was limited to one single issue: IN/OUT.

And OUT, regardless of the consequences, can mean only one thing: 100% end of the Membership of the EU.

But it does not imply anything whatsoever about the UK/EU relationships after the leave.

They can be the same (minus the membership, but subject to specific UK/EU agreements), or anything else the parties decide to agree.

The UK can even rejoin the EU again, subject to another referendum (after 5 years, like General Elections?).

The issue here is not what relationships the UK and EU should have after the LEAVE, but that the leave process should not depend on negotiations about any future relationships.

It should be limited to allowing time to wind-up the existing ones.

And within this time period, the UK government could pass laws and make agreements with the EU which would make the transition to the new status less painful for both the sides.

Have a look at: Brexit When?.

Trying to reach a deal which would preserve some perceived benefits of the membership (single market?) while remove from that deal some of the perceived disadvantages (freedom of movement?) as part of the exit process will simply fail after having lost much time and caused uncertainty and confusion.

The government is already accepting such outcome, by saying "No deal is better than a bad deal".

So, when they fail to reach a deal after 2 years, they will be able to say: "We've tried to get the best possible deal, but THEY (the EU) were intransigent, and unreasonable. It's all their fault. We are out without any deal".

Of course, there will be some inevitable costs of leaving the EU, and yes, they will be much greater than the costs of moving a house, but a person moving a house, or a state deciding to leave the EU, is presumed to have accepted that such major decisions do involve costs.

The A50 "deal" approach has already caused the costs of the two legal cases, which would have been unnecessary, if the government had not adopted the "deal" approach, but had reduced the deal to agreeing a time period to terminate the current relationships, and left any deals for the post-Brexit future.

And, yes, the government could also say that the referendum is not binding and put the STAY/LEAVE decision to be decided by Parliament with the STAY result.

There are people who would prefer such outcome, as this would have avoided all the perceived negative results of leaving the EU.

Is this what you would prefer?

But the government had chosen not to follow that path.

And, if they had chosen to follow it, there would have been other consequences - mostly political (a UK Donald Trump?) - which they had chosen to prevent.

And now we are where we are - the show continues.

And as the PM promised, it will be rough. And exciting?

Side B did not respond to this argument.

Has he, at last, understood Side A's argument, and agreed with it?

Or, has he simply given up, having understood that he cannot "win" this time, while still holding on to his beliefs?

In most cases it is the latter.

Political people find it very difficult to change their views, even if proved wrong.

They are not seeking to understand the issue.

They are not concerned with their views being wrong, they are holding on to them, because they happen to be theirs.

Having run out of arguments, they withdraw, and will seek to find some other argument to "win" next time.

The result is: they trap themselves in their errors, being unable to correct them.

In the end their errors lead them to failure and defeat to be replaced by another set of politicians. And the political cycle continues.

But such cycle of failures discredits the Institutions of the State, and the People lose faith in the Establishment.

The outcome of the Brexit Referendum, the election in the USA of Donald Trump, the increase in popularity of the "Anti-Establishment Parties" in Europe are due to this loss of faith in the "Establishment Parties", as a result of their policies of the last 15 years.

It would be wrong to assume, however, that the moment the UK leaves the EU, or the "Anti-Establishment Parties" replace the discredited "Establishment Parties", an ideal "truth-based" society will emerge.

The Human tendencies to deception and self-deception are just as much part of Human Nature, as the tendency to uncontrolled violence. Such tendencies can be overcome, but this requires the same level of social intolerance to dishonesty as to murder or rape. And especially to dishonesty in government.

As long as dishonesty in government is tolerated, it will not matter, who is in government - the government will be dis-functional and corrupt, and the political cycle will continue.

The above argument exposes the difficulty Humans have understanding what they read or hear when it appears to them to be against their own views.

But successful governance of countries cannot be achieved without understanding things as they are, rather than painting a false view of the world to fit the prejudices, wishful thinking, or psychological convenience of those who govern.

The lawless, senseless, destructive wars of the past 15 years, and the general moral and intellectual decay in the context of which these wars have been taking place show clearly that the present socio-political order has come to the end of its useful life.

The world needs a system of government which has an inbuilt system of prevention, detection and correction of human errors, rather than being based on their denials and cover-ups.

From the system of government based on rivalries between adversarial ideologies, where parties fight each other on the physical battle-field with bombs and missiles, or on the ideological electoral battle-field with false arguments, the world needs to move to a system of government based on honest acknowledgement of the traits of the Human Nature which prevent successful functioning of the Human Society.

Once the existence of these traits is acknowledged a system will need to be established for overcoming these traits through education and law enforcement.


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