"I agree with Nick." Why Ed brought it back

The old pre-election refrain gets an airing.

It appears to be May 2010 all over again.

A Labour leader is throwing come hither looks at Nick Clegg. And after celebrating what looked like a victory in the small hours of a Friday morning, one long weekend later and Tory MPs are realising that there may be an orange obstacle preventing them doing anything and everything they want.

Meanwhile, a quirk in the coalition agreement -- that everyone bar Ed Miliband seems to have missed -- is about to take effect.

Let's deal with the Tories first. A certain amount of self-indulgent giggling on Friday at Cameron's "coup" has turned into sorrowful headshaking now that the Lib Dems have (belatedly) called foul.

"Do they understand the concept of collective responsibility?" was the question 18 months ago and is being asked again now. To which the answer is yes, it's a two way street, it applies to governments who have won an outright majority (the Tories didn't), and anyway withdrawing to the margins of Europe isn't in the coalition agreement. This last point gives the Lib Dems carte blanche on the issue of Europe.

For any Tory Eurosceptics reading this, "carte blanche" is a French phrase, which roughly translates as "stuff you".

So what does Cameron do about this? Tories keen to push on from Friday's, ahem, "victory", think he should dissolve the coalition, ditch us pesky coalition non-partners (how quickly they forget) and start repatriating powers from Brussels pronto. They are happy for Cameron to call a general election if he needs to -- no British politician has ever lost out by sticking up two fingers to the French, have they?

Unfortunately for those Eurosceptics, David Cameron can't do that. And what's stopping him? Well, amusingly, it's the Queen. For on 15 September 2011, Her Majesty graciously gave royal assent to the Parliament Act (sponsor: N. Clegg).

This means there can only be a General Election before May 2015 under two circumstances. Either at least two thirds of the entire House of Commons have to agree that it's a jolly good idea, which is unlikely. Or the government has to lose a vote of no confidence.

Now, that could happen. I'm not sure David Cameron would want to call such a vote and end up having to vote against himself in order to bring down his own government, but the option is there for him. Or for Labour.

But that doesn't trigger an election. First Parliament must examine if an alternative government can be formed from the existing make up of the House...

Hence we hear the clarion call of "I agree with Nick".

There will be plenty who say that won't happen. That it would make the Lib Dems look duplicitous to turn on their Tory partners and the electorate would never forgive them. Ah well, Plus ca change (translation - see above).

Ed Miliband knows that a vote of no confidence from Labour, Lib Dems, Green SNP and Alliance would end with him being Prime Minister without the need for a general election. Support of Plaid and others would make him more secure. The maths couldn't be made to work 18 months ago. But now the Tories have had time to annoy everyone - suddenly it looks a little more likely.

Like I said. It feels like May 2010 all over again...

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.