Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The EEA is the only sensible option on the table


If you're Daniel Hannan or one of the libertarian Toryboys you think that Brexit will usher in a new dawn of free trade and light touch regulation. You will frequently cite Singapore or Hong Kong as an example of how things can be. You will of course not mention the vast slums, the slave labour and the shoddy building practices that will see tens of thousands killed come the next earthquake. Nor will you mention that housing for ordinary citizens is cramped and overcrowded.

If you're an average Joe existing on a diet of Daily Express, Telegraph and Breitbart articles you could be forgiven for thinking Brexit will usher in this new dawn. Most people have next to no idea what is regulated, by whom or why. Very few fully comprehend the extent and depth of EU integration. Hardly anybody understands the various systems and regulatory mechanisms that make modern life tick along the way it does. And there's really no shame in that. It's normal.

It's only after three years of intensive examination of regulation that I have any real idea how deep the rabbit hole goes. Even now I am still bumping into new concepts hitherto unexplored. What one finds is that the EU most people are aware of is only the tip of the iceberg and there are many tiers of invisible EU which function as part of a tapestry of treaties, agreements and contracts. There are now volumes of regulations and rules governing things that simply didn't exist when we joined the EU.

In a lot of areas some regulation is better than none at all and if you were going to deregulate you would want to make damn sure you had something of equivalence to replace it with. In most cases we would find that the regulation that exists is eminently sensible. The problem is usually overzealous interpretation or misapplication. The only time anyone pays any particular attention is when it affects them directly. So we must approach Brexit with care.

The issue of Brexit as much a legal and technical one as it is political. It's as easy or as difficult as you want to make it. We could, as some suggest, rip up agreements and let the chips fall where they may but this would have severe consequences politically and economically. It definitely would cause a recession and we definitely would be poorer.

So the question then becomes one of how do we leave without causing extensive damage to our economy and international standing. That is not so easy - especially when the pragmatic conflicts with the political. If we were being ultra pragmatic we simply wouldn't bother leaving the EU. Doing nothing is always the path of least resistance. But that is not acceptable to the majority of people. So now it's up to politics to discern what is. An unenviable task.

The dilemma of politicians is whether to stand up for what is right or whether to bend to irrational demands for no political or economic gain. What most people expect of Brexit is to be out from under the dead hand of technocracy and into a simpler, less bureaucratic world. That though does not exist anywhere - and if it did we would hate it even more than the status quo. So before we go into Brexit talks we need to define what it is we seek to achieve.

For anyone on the right the big red line is trade. We also want to take back control of labour laws. EU rights and entitlements reduce the availability of work and in reality offer no real protection. Legislation cannot replace a competent and active union. There is also no good reason to have a one size fits all agriculture policy and local control of our seas is better for the environment. There are plenty of areas where a reboot of policy would do Britain a massive favour. The converse of this is that there are also a number of opportunities to shoot ourselves in the foot.

With that in mind we need to apply a certain degree of risk management. The juvenile nihilist in me might like to start unplugging things to see what happens but then we have to live with the consequences of whatever we do. And so it stands to reason that we would want to negotiate a flexible agreement whereby we could uncouple from the EU carefully and slowly. We are embarking on major surgery, plucking away at connecting fibres. Were we to look at the list of subject headings for consideration they would span into the hundreds.

We then have to consider the commercial concerns. The single market is not just a free trade area. Not is it merely a region of regulatory harmonisation. There are hundreds of intricate systems to keep it all running and to keep it fair and legal. Losing access to these systems has very real ramifications in terms of quality of life and economic prosperity. To put it in stark terms there is never going to be a full divorce from the EU for as long as it exists. When the EU is our nearest and most integrated trading partner there must be a high degree of convergence and cooperation.

Right now, if the Brexit department is doing its job it will be consulting industry leaders and lobby groups to see what they wish to retain. In this it will become apparent that access to and retention of EU decentralised agencies is extremely important. As much as they are valuable to us we have nothing we could replace them with. By the time any such analysis is complete we will find we want to keep most, if not all and the list of things we do want from the EU will be far larger than the things we don't.

We hear Brexit politicians talk about the Canada Option which is nothing more than a vague aspiration. To understand why this is considered an option you have to examine how Brexiteers think. They think the core component of the EU is the free trade area - which in their tiny minds means an agreement on tariffs. Everything else is considered peripheral and unimportant sundries which can be covered by "transitional agreements". It is only a matter of time before reality intrudes on this quaint interpretation. Britain will need something far more comprehensive.

So we have quite a job on our hands don't we? The chances of sorting all that out in two years are nil. We are talking about forty years of technical evolution conducted by an army of lawyers, politicians and technocrats. To forge an agreement we will start with free trade as a baseline. Then we are in the process of adding on the extras. They will number in the hundreds. Any miscalculation could cause serious and irreversible damage. Our end proposal will be so close to single market membership that it will look very much like actual membership.

This though, is exactly the kind of picking and choosing the EU has largely warned us against. For sure we do not take their opening gambit as gospel and the whole point of negotiations is to overcome red lines. But then we have to consider that to construct the EEA agreement it took eight years. Do we seriously want to devote eight years to producing something similar. More to the point, does the EU? If I were in charge of negotiating for the EU I would be extremely reluctant to reinvent the wheel and negotiate an elaborate agreement only to do what the EEA agreement already does.

The most obvious and most sensible course of action is to take the EEA agreement and negotiate a series of opt outs and waivers using the system of annexes it has. And yes, that includes reforms to freedom of movement. With it being its own entity with its own secretariat there is already the physical infrastructure to administer it and bring measures up for review.

This means we can have a slowly evolving Brexit where the final agreement is not set in stone and miscalculations can be negotiated. The very last thing we want is a static agreement with the EU or we won't be in a better position than EU members. There is no good reason not to use the EEA as a baseline - not least as a means to shorten the process and reduce the uncertainty and disruption.

Critics of this approach are wrong. The fact is that Brexit is too big and too complex to attempt it all in one go, total separation is undesirable and not achievable and in the modern world there is no such thing as regulatory independence. Banking and finance regulation most originates from global agreements, technical standards and industry regulations are not made by the EU and the EU is largely a recipient of regulation rather than the creator of it.

As much as Norway is consulted on new regulation it does have a system for influencing them and it gets more of a say than the UK by way of being an independent voice in the global forums where the rules are made. Britain free of the EU is no longer under the whip of it and can vote according to its own interests.

The EEA agreement is completely in line with Brexit. It takes us out of EU political integration, it gives us our trade policy back and makes us an independent nation in all the ways that matter. The deregulation fantasies of the Tory right are a red herring, immigration concerns can be addressed, and though we will continue to pay into the EU budget there was never any possibility of ending payments and it was grossly irresponsible of Vote Leave to make issue of it.

In most respects the EEA is as close to a silver bullet we are going to get. Doing it some other way may have some peripheral advantages but critics need to spell out what they are and present assurances that the trade off is worth it. They will find the advantages are minimal. They also miss the point.

The point of the EEA is that it does not have to be the final destination of Brexit. It is a living agreement whereby modifications can be made through a dedicated system and the process of Brexit can be continuous until such a times as we are satisfied. If we attempt a big bang Brexit then we could find that there is no going back on our decisions.

The notion that we can design an agreement from scratch ignores the reality that we are negotiating an exit with a lot of baggage to consider. The EEA can form the core of a Brexit settlement and in so doing take a lot of the contentious issues with the potential to derail talks off the table entirely. Doing it any other way would be completely pointless. Our approach should be to minimise the risks while securing maximum flexibility. If we do so we will find that our willingness to keep it simple(ish) will buy is a lot of good will.

The Brexit process is going to require a good deal of cooperation from the EU and will chew up a lot of time the EU would rather be spending in some other way. Brexit is not the only crisis on the radar. Diplomatic run-time is a finite resource and one we can save for the EU by using mechanisms already at our disposal.

If instead we open up every can of worms we create a number of hazards for the EU that could well see other member states engage in mischief making that damages not only the UK but also the EUs ability to function. While the nihilists on the right might like to see that, nobody is served by weakening the EU and exposing it to unnecessary risks.

The only real disadvantage to the EEA is that it is a difficult thing to sell - but that is really the job of politics and politicians. Their profession is to take unpopular decisions. This will require exactly that kind of leadership. We cannot and should not pander to the fantasies of the Tory right nor can we indulge Ukip's dishonest conflation of freedom of movement with open borders. To do so would be a gross act of political cowardice that will cost us dearly.

If the Brexiteers don't like it then that's really their own fault. Throughout the referendum they had every opportunity to produce a plan and it would have bought them a lot of influence. They declined that invitation. If now they find that someone else gets to define Brexit then they should take that up with Dominic Cummings and Matthew Elliott. They had their chance. They blew it.

"More freedom, more influence, and more support for its views"


Writing in Splash 24, a maritime trade journal, regulatory expert Clay Maitland has some interesting Brexit observations that regular readers will chime with.
For those with maritime interests, what happens at the International Maritime Organization, (it favours the American spelling) has relevance, significance, and – in this case – immediacy.

The EU has in recent years attempted to enforce group discipline, under which all EU member states hew to the Brussels party line. This has importance in two areas: decisions made at meetings of the IMO Council, its supreme chamber, and informally, in the give-and-take of consensus.

The United Kingdom (or whatever it may decide to call itself in future) has a more or less automatic elected seat on the council, which, I think, it is in no real danger of losing. But now that it is (note that, yes, I say ‘is’) free of the formal need to consult, and certainly obey, Brussels, there will be a subtle but big change in how decisions are reached, and what those decisions might be.

The second consequence is the reverse: Brussels (or rather Paris-Berlin) will no longer be obliged to consult, and often conform, to the views of Whitehall, and the City of London, as it did until last Thursday. No doubt the EU shipping policy directorate will, this week, be going over what pages to tear out of their briefing books.

Then there’s Greece, and particularly the influential Union of Greek Shipowners and its friend and neighbour, the (London) Greek Shipping Cooperation Committee. The Greek shipping community, and successive Greek governments, have always chafed under the policy whip of Brussels, which to most Greeks translates as ‘Berlin’. While Greece remains a member of the EU, the departure of the UK will be a powerful incentive to reject Brussels’ maritime diktats, at least those it doesn’t like.

Greek governments will have noted the fact that the British ministry of transport will be now be more welcoming to their sometimes nonconformist views on maritime regulation. The converse is also true.

Overall, there will be a paradox: Brussels’ control of a one-size-fits-all policy on maritime policy, at least at IMO, will be considerably diminished, within the bloc itself. Countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, though still charter signatories of the Rome and Maastricht treaties, have powerful maritime, banking and insurance interests. They, along with Greece, are likely to form an influential counterweight to Brussels. And they, after all, are still inside the tent.

So what we are now likely to see, ironically, is a more diminished Britain, except at IMO, where it will have more freedom, more influence, and more support for its views on maritime policy than it has in recent years. Surprise!
Except of course what Clay Maitland has probably not clocked by way of deformation professionelle is the fact that the IMO is not the only International Organisation where we are under the whip of the EU. There's the WTO, ITU, UNECE, Codex, ILO, FAO and ISO etc. And so if his analysis of the UKs position in the IMO is correct, and I believe it is, then it follows that the UK will have "more freedom, more influence, and more support for its views" elsewhere in trade and regulation. By that token it seems the only institution where we are actually weaker is in the European Union. Meh!

Globalisation is not dead. It's changing - and so must we.


Throughout the referendum I was reluctant to use the Daily Express as a source for obvious reasons, but a report from last Thursday is illuminating.
Up and coming nations in Africa and the Caribbean will no longer see any worth in being tied to dictatorial Brussels policies now that the UK is no longer part of the bloc. And they could be about to torpedo the EU’s roll-out of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA), which are designed to create a free-trade zone between Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
That is the view of top academics Christopher Stevens and Jane Kennan, from the Overseas Development Institute, who say Brexit has given many governments an excuse to pull out of the deeply unpopular scheme. Tanzania has already ditched a proposed deal between Brussels and the East Africa Community (ECA) countries, citing the “turmoil” engulfing the EU following the Brexit vote and the skewed terms of the agreement.

The country’s Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Aziz Mlima blasted: “Our experts have established that the way it has been crafted, the EPA will not benefit local industries in East Africa. Instead it will lead to their destruction as developed countries are likely to dominate the market.” And now the two trade experts have predicted that a number of other African and Caribbean countries will follow suit, because for most Commonwealth countries Britain is by far the biggest market for their exports.

In an essay on the future of Britain’s trade policy post-Brexit, the pair wrote: “Although some Africa, Caribbean and Pacific signatories have embraced the required policy changes, for many the whole EPA process remains deeply contentious. “The post-Brexit announcement by Tanzania that it will not proceed with the East African EPA is merely the most recent example of delay and backtracking on implementation.”

A number of countries have been stalling on implementing the trade agreements, agreed as far back as 2008, over concerns about the power they will hand to Brussels to meddle in national affairs. And the economists predicted that the Caribbean - held up as the ‘EPA poster boy’ by Brussels bureaucrats - could be the “first to split” and sink another key area of EU trade policy.

Even though Britain is no longer considered a “dominant EU importer” from Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries it does still “absorb a significant share” of the goods those countries sell, they added. The news comes as Europe’s much-vaunted trade clout withers away, with Brussels staggering from crisis to crisis as it tries to close out a number of flagship deals. 
How much this can be put down to Brexit is uncertain. It may well be a catalyst, a political signal that the EU is on the wane. More likely, it is simply the excuse they've been waiting for. EU deals are considered far too invasive and make far too many demands that are really not the concern of the do-gooding set atop of the EU.

And indeed this further dismantles the oft repeated political meme that pooling sovereignty means greater clout. Bigger trade agreements are more likely to be controversial and drum up popular opposition. The more the EU makes them a flagship enterprise the more likely it seems they are likely to fail. TTIP is now in a salvage stage and many suspect it is stone dead.

The general trend is that the EU approach to trade does not work, the EU cannot deliver on trade and that "clout" is actually viewed as intimidating and a reason to be suspicious. Given that the EU is seeking invasive social reforms inside Africa, and the effects of such deals are asymmetrical there's no wonder African leaders are reluctant.

Underlying this though is something more significant. Trade economist Hosuk Lee-Makiyama says the drawn-out TTIP and CETA experiences demonstrate to would-be trade partners that the EU is a less reliable counterpart in negotiations, less able to agree a deal and less likely to implement a deal when agreed. We are witnessing the death of the big bang trade deal and such a blow means that the EUs days of trade exclusivity are numbered.

In some corners, this is being touted as the death of globalisation and Brexit is the first domino to fall. I'm don't buy it for a moment. It is changing but not dying. What we are seeing is a ramping up of global efforts to remove trade barriers - and in this technology rather than government is making the running. In this, global measures for customs systems are eating into the relevance of the EU.

Common sense and best practice is now driving the regulatory agenda which is no longer in the hands of the EU. UNECE is becoming the more relevant forum for improving value chains and trade profitability. That is not to say that the EU is no longer a power but it has been losing control of the regulatory agenda for some time and Brexit makes it all the weaker. And that's no bad thing.

This blog in the past has made the case that we are witnessing the birth of a new global single market in goods and services where regional regulatory codes are usurped by quasi-legislation. This is a quiet revolution where we see domestic legislative measures taken to ensure that technical regulation conforms to global standards and uses common regulatory platforms. No treaties or trade deals are required. Consequently the absence of trade deals post-Brexit is no indication that globalisation has stalled.

What it means is that trade has developed a life of its own where the process of trade is no longer wrapped up in highly visible packaging. Trade negotiations are now an ongoing continuum where the machine is steered by a process of barely visible, but significant increments. What this means is that nation states can opt into multilateral programmes and participate without opening up their borders to invasive diktats.

What we are now seeing, as per the illustration above, is smaller countries dealing direct with UNECE and Codex in order to enhance their influence over EU internal trade. And this is how Britain will operate post-Brexit, cutting out the middleman entirely. With the upcoming completion of the Trade Facilitation Agreement, the first multilateral trade deal in twenty years, there are now more liberal avenues to bring about greater international cooperation and integration. 

What this means is that going forward, big bang deals like TTIP are not needed. If anything the regulatory convergence in TTIP is to try to meld long established regulatory regimes with differing base philosophies. That was always going to be a nightmare and if the EU achieves anything at all then that is no small achievement. 

The more likely means of achieving the same thing is to simply wait for older regulatory codes to reach obsolescence. In a fast moving world within twenty years the crop of regulation that now exists, based on decades old systems will vanish into the ether. No new agreements are necessary because most nations will by then have agreed to use the same basic templates.

We have heard much in recent months from the EU about completing the single market. I take this as a soft propaganda campaign to convince us Brits to stick around. The problem being that EU measures on services have yet to mature and are now being developed in tandem with global measures. It makes no sense to be subordinated by the EU for the sake of completing the European single market when we can steer that agenda globally.

This is not to say that bilateralism is dead. That too is transforming, where we will increasingly see cooperation agreements between the UK and more culturally aligned allies to act as one on global trade forums. One idea doing the rounds is a CANZUK bloc which I assume to be a more informal Efta - which at the same time does not exclude the possibility of Efta membership. I'll leave you to be the judge of whether that is a worthwhile pursuit, but in a post Brexit world, there are any number of alliance configurations we can explore, none of them mutually exclusive - and can be fashioned on a sectoral basis rather than geographic blocs.

With the dawn 3D printing and similar technologies we will see a major transformation of supply chains as components are increasingly manufacture in situe and on demand. That means our trade concerns will increasingly shift to matters of intellectual property and patents.

This is why classic Gravity Theory might well be going the way of the dinosaur. Innovation centres will be in our gun-sights where geography and market size are not necessarily the driving factors. In this there are already an elaborate web of cooperation agreements between non state actors where a proxy deal can open up a world of opportunity. 

In that regard, whenever I see somebody talking about "trade deals" I tune them out. The real business of trade is happening off the radar. Remainers are going to be cock-a-hoop to see that Liam Fox struggles to get many flagship big bang deals chalked up on the board but that is not to say that Brexit cannot open doors and it doesn't point to failure. We have yet to fully comprehend the trade landscape before us. In this we are better placed than the EU which is still barking up the wrong tree and is failing to learn from the same old mistakes. 

In the end I think we are making the leap at the right time. The EU wasn't going anywhere and there is no real energy behind it. It is a most unloved and unlikeable institution built on a staid ideology from the last century. Right now we are seeing Poland pulling away from "Social Europe" and they are not alone in putting up walls to the EUs social agenda. Africa doesn't want it and nor does Europe. 

If the EU wants to survive is will have to make major institutional reforms and reinvent itself as a multilateral trade entity. Brexit will hasten that process existential enquiry which can only be a good thing, but Britain has better things to do than engage in parochial navel gazing. We have a job to do. With a new energy and a new found sense of urgency there is every reason to believe that Brexit will be a success. Then we will find that reports of the death of globalisation are very much exaggerated.

Monday, 26 September 2016

There was never a good case for remaining in the EU


The above tweet from Andrew Lillico triggered and interesting thought experiment this evening. Lillico has it that Remain lost "cos the case for staying in the EU was weak". I'm not entirely sure that is quite true. They never made a case for staying in the EU beyond how horrible leaving would be. For that reason it deserved to lose. But what case would you make for staying in the EU?

For more or less every stated advantage of being in the EU, you can have the same as part of the single market. There are marginal advantages to membership but they are somewhat bland and procedural and mainly apply to business. So how would you sell the idea to an average voter?

And there's your problem right there. Firstly you have to be honest about what the EU is. It's no good selling the advantages of freedom of movement since most do not take advantage of it, nor does the notion of cheaper holidays make much difference to those who have forgotten what a holiday even is. Nor can we expect people to suffer the democratic deficit for the sake of abolishing roaming charges. Where's the big idea? Where is the vision and what is the direction?

And that immediately puts the remain camp on the back foot. The big idea is a supreme government for Europe with an eventual destination of a single market throughout along with a uniform social policy and deep defence cooperation. The direction of ever closer union has only one destination - the abolition of the nation state. In that regard, had the Remain camp made that case, Mr Lillico would be absolutely right. The case for staying in something like that is weak indeed.

But since they could never be honest about that they could try a different tack. The strongest pragmatic argument for remaining was so that the UK continued to be a frustrating factor in preventing full integration. That is almost a compelling argument but it's a negative premise. What they needed to do was prove that the UK could be a leader in Europe.

To that end, they needed to make good on their acknowledgement that the EU "needs reform" and actually specify what those reforms need to be and how they intended to get them. Throughout the referendum we were told that there was no Brexit plan, but there wasn't a plan for making good of EU membership either. Had Cameron not already blown that by attempting a bogus renegotiation then that might have been a credible avenue. Since Cameron attempted to fob us off, any notion of leading in Europe would have fallen flat. The EU made it quite clear that even basic reforms were off the table.

The basic fact is that there isn't much that's likeable about the EU. There's no real wow factor and there's no energy to it. It's a staid and antiquated project whose champions are long dead. The main cheerleaders for the EU now being the die-hard federalist zealots who manage by some miracle to be even more unlikeable than Brexiteers. When you take a cold hard look at the EU it is a bland managerial device promoted by distinctly uninspiring and uninteresting people along with narcissistic virtue signallers.

Strip away all the technocratic notional benefits that make no real difference to the man on the Clapham omnibus and there isn't much to be said for it. The fact that the local museum is propped up by EU funding is neither here nor there. We all know where the money came from to begin with.

Having thought about it, I can see why they went with Project Fear. Brexit most certainly is fraught with risk and complexity and it very well could have a seriously damaging effect if mishandled. That's the only case I could honestly argue. And that is what they did. In this they can't claim that the message didn't get through. They had every channel open to them. We got the message from every arm of the establishment that Brexit is universally bad and there are no upsides to it. The problem is, the public didn't agree. Brexit complexity simply isn't a good enough reason to stay committed to an unloved political orthodoxy that nobody really ever asked for.

And this is really why the remainers don't get it. They did everything they were supposed to do in the only ways available to them. It just doesn't occur to them that people simply don't want to be in the EU. They invent all the reasons under the sun as to why we voted to leave but in the end, Mr Lillico is in the right ballpark. There's not much to stick around for.

The way forward for Brexit

If you existed on a diet of remainer problematising you would very much get the impression that there are no real benefits to Brexit. In the interim that's probably true and even then the benefits are entirely contingent on how competent the government is - which doesn't inspire me with confidence so far. Howsoever, to every problem, unless you are David Allen Green, there is a solution. The way Green operates is to pretend solutions do not exist. He cannot be unaware of the many solutions presently in circulation thus his latest venture marks him out as a fraud on the make. Anybody can ask cleverdick questions.

But in order to understand Brexit and what talks are likely to achive one has to first acknowledge that if you thought it was complicated then it's even more complicated than that. That much Allen-Green won't know because he already, as far as he is concerned, knows everything. When you look at the scale of the task you come to one inescapable solution. The agreement signed at the end of Brexit talks will not be the end of the process. At best we will have an agreed a framework for continuous departure. Just the list of subject headings is considerable.


So far many are still caught up in the basics being unable to distinguish between the customs union and the single market and have yet to clarify what they mean by single market access. This, though, deals only with trade. Unless we want to be tied up in Article 50 negotiations in perpetuity - for which there is no appetite, the agreement we shall have will be an interim framework where the finer details are not even opened up for discussion. The easiest and most obvious way to get round them is to use the EEA agreement - or a template based on it.

If the aim of the government is to achive Brexit in a single bound they will fail. One hopes the realisation will come before they invoke Article 50 but these are strange times where political competence is not in fashion. Should they fail to realise the necessity for an interim solution then we will be having crisis talks and quite possibly there will be a pause in the proceedings while both sides get their bearings. 

The big assumption in the Brexit debate is member states and the EU are clued up while our own ministers are muppets. We will discover in due course that ignorance is evenly spread. This will be a vast learning process for all involved as the last forty years of technocratic development is brought out for an airing - some of it the subject of public scrutiny for the first time ever. 

In fact, the only way we are going to complete the talks in two years if we have a meticulously planned timetable and a solid grasp of the issues up front. Bureaucracy being what it is though, there is no reason to expect smooth sailing. If we conducted parallel talks we could very well negotiate EEA terms before invoking Article 50. That would buy us time to further prepare which means all the peripheral issues can be confined to the two years. That though may be optimistic so we should be looking to use our leverage to negotiate an extension before even invoking Article 50.  

What makes the EEA the obvious solution is the nature of the agreement. What critics of the EEA miss is that the EEA agreement is not just an agreement on single market participation. It is an interface mechanism with its own infrastructure for constant review and reform for the purposes of entering special conditions, exemptions and reservations. And so there are mechanisms to tailor the agreement to the needs of the UK, be that enhanced controls over freedom of movement or better consultation on regulations. It also takes a number of issues listed above off the table and beyond the reach of those who would like to complicate the proceedings.

If we do it right, by the end of Article 50 talks we will have negotiated an agreement that keeps much of the existing set up in tact but buys us as much time as we need to decide how we diverge from the EU. If we can accomplish that then it will be a very tidy accomplishment. If however we decide to go full throttle, we will spend several years bickering over the finer points only to replicate the mess of agreements Switzerland has while making life more complicated than it needs to be. 

If we approach talks with a view to creating a Brexit safe space or departure lounge we can shelve some of the more thorny issues where there would be serious advantage in consulting Norway and other Efta states to leverage bigger reforms of the EEA and thus weaken the EUs protectionist measures. That would do all of us a favour. Top of the bill would be Rules of Origin. 

In setting out yet more Brexit hurdles, David Allen Green is essentially reinventing the wheel where most of the work has already been done. Far from being the doyen he believes he is, he is several months behind the curve not least because he is not in the least bit interested in solutions. He's just looking for more flies to put in the ointment.

What is needed is to ram home the message that we need a flexible exit and that there is no need to rush it. We've waited decades to leave the EU so we can be patient a while longer. The collective refusal of remainers and Brexiteers alike to confront this reality is why the government is still thrashing around for big bang solutions when there really aren't any. 

The fact is that Brexit is unprecedented and so we will have to work toward brand new solutions to unique problems and we will have to work closely with the EU and the international community to from them. Consequently the bluff and bluster of politicians on all sides should be ignored because we are all in the hands of the technocrats now. We're looking for something amicable, stable and legal. In that regard, political acceptability doesn't really come into it. Through a process of elimination we will have to learn to like what we get. 

Though we lack the necessary collective competence at the moment we will most likely acquire it through this process and build on that in order to decide our post Brexit strategy which has yet to be defined. We will find that the sweeping reforms the Brexiteers have in mind are not so achievable and we will find we are as restrained as the EU in some respects. What should not be forgotten though is that we will for the first time in a long time have the knowledge and the tools to try things differently - and that is at least half the point of Brexit. If the existing set up was working we wouldn't have voted to leave. 

So far as I am concerned, the problematisers are now simply time-wasting. To them a new Brexit complication is just fodder for their own entertainment and self-gratification. Those like Ian Dunt and David Allen Green are like squirrels harvesting nuts for the winter. Hoarding whatever they can find for their stash. It's a cynical game and it's intellectual masturbation. I have no interest in it. Whether these bozos like it or not, Brexit is happening, it's not an unmitigated disaster and there are solutions no matter how hard these frauds attempt to ignore them. When they are as keen on presenting solutions as they are problems I will know they are serious. I will not hold my breath though. I know they aren't. 

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Brexit: hear all, trust nothing


For all the bluster and bravado, most of what we are seeing is theatre. Unhelpful noise. What we do know is that the government does not yet have a position and can make no clear commitments just yet. And though scorn is rightly heaped on Brexiteers for not having a clue, the remainer clique on Twitter are still locked into a hard Brexit narrative and a paradigm that hasn't shifted beyond the stunted bilateralism of yore.

What is forgotten in all this though is that the EU and member states are not much better off either. Signals may pass back and forth but this is a parallel universe to what is being hammered out in the back offices. I rather expect the task is going to be so complex that negotiations around member states preferences are going to play second fiddle to any solution that works and is considered legal within the existing framework. In some respects they're hoisted by their own petard.

They might very well say that they intend to take a tough line on this or that but when it involves opening up yet more messy talks over something that would otherwise be settled, we can expect the power brokers within the EU to squash the minnows and put them back in their place. This isn't going to be the feeding frenzy anyone thinks it is.

For that reason the EEA is the UKs best bet in that it creates the fewest opportunities for trouble makers to redefine it. Though various sources continue to insist the EEA has been ruled out, Mrs May keeps yanking on the leash and I rather suspect that nothing is off the table as yet.

The truth of the matter is that there are simply too many areas to put under the microscope. Some things will have to be sold as seen and some things will be too well established and too mature to even think about severing without a very long period of planning and reflection.

As much as anything this is a vast exercise in project management at the very best we can expect is a framework for transitioning out of the EU. There is no change of hitting it all in one go. There is no WTO option and no reason to believe the EU will wish to devote the best of its trade resources to building a bespoke framework for Britain that will end up much like the one already in existence. 

It is for this this reason I have largely tuned out the Twitter debate between various self-appointed experts. External demands from third countries, the concerns of business and the complexity of the task will dictate the path more than the politicians. Since nobody is in the mood for economic self-harm we can expect a timid agreement even if the rhetoric is bold. Warning shots and refusals just don't seem very credible right now. It is not within their gift to be telling us what the score is just yet. Their own experts have to go through the same process as ours.

To my mind all the logic points to an EEA agreement and Mrs May would have to be steadfastly pro-economic suicide to consider anything else. She has given no outward sign that she is keen on such a destination and so unless she is taking criminally bad advice (which is a possibility) she won't try for a full divorce in one go. In the end though, I think she will have her own sources of expertise. She will not be listening to the Twitterers or the hack-o-sphere. More than likely she will be taking the advice of political strategists working out how to sell chalk as cheese.

Brexiteers have sold Brexit as a clean slate. It's a little naive to believe it is. Though Brexit may be a political reboot, it is far from a clean slate. There are international rules and regulations, single market considerations and masses of contract law and quasi regulation that will restrict our choices for at least a decade. There is no sudden renaissance of fishing for starters. Whichever way Mrs May turns, somebody will be calling it a betrayal. With so many options closing down by the day the biggest job will be selling a Brexit deal that satisfies nobody.

For the time being we just have to watch and wait and see the debate unfold and gradually see the hard Brexit fantasies fall apart. In the meantime the debate is going nowhere. Nothing has changed since this time last month and nothing will be different by the end of October. Nothing said will be set in stone and the EEA will still inescapably be the only rational path. It's just a matter of time until Mrs May reaches that conclusion herself.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Remainer outrage is pure narcissism


Imagine if all of Europe were united under a single flag. Imagine if we had a common demos and a political dialogue that was similar throughout. Imagine if there were a convergence of aims and culture. Imagine if one language were becoming the norm. Imagine if the majority of people sought to up sticks and live somewhere else in Europe. Imagine if social attitudes were broadly similar. Imagine if good governance were the standard throughout.

That is the EU that remainers think exists. And I suppose among the young in the capital cities of Europe, you can see why they might think that. London especially. Except that Poland is now moving to outlaw abortion. The Greek government is a kleptocracy even by African standards. Homophobia is rampant in Eastern Europe. Were the precious little darlings marching for the EU to actually make use of their right to free movement and go and parade their virtues in the provincial towns of Poland they would likely have bricks thrown at them. This liberal monoculture that remainers seem to think exists simply doesn't.

The fact is that Britain is not Poland. It's not backward illiberal Catholic country and that is why the best of their youth want to come here. A liberal country with a tolerant society. And that's good but the right to freedom of movement is an asymmetrical one since as a rule Brits don't want to move to less developed countries like Bulgaria, Romania and France. The people who do are those who can afford to - and the absence of freedom of movement has never been a serious barrier to those who wanted to.

And this is why Brexit isn't going to knock the UK of the top spot any time soon. People still want to come here so that they can do what they want to do and be who they want to be. It is that which makes the UK a leading creative economy. And that liberalism is not something the EU has done for Britain. Britain has been at the forefront of all of Europe's social and cultural revolutions in recent years.

So what we are seeing among the remainers is a projection. It is a projection of their own sense of moral superiority over those of us who voted to leave. Moreover, it is a chimera. The liberal united Europe they speak of does not exist in any sense. Our precious little darlings are using the EU to project a self-image. Europhilia is narcissism.

And that in some way goes toward explaining Brexit. The EU itself is a political vanity project - the imposition of an economic and social agenda on Europe without consultation or consent. It is built on the assumption that the little people are backward savages who need their liberal elites to tell them how to live. And you know, as someone not opposed to the values of tolerance and openness, I wouldn't mind all that much if it was actually working. But it isn't.

Liberal and tolerant societies evolve. They are not created. You cannot legislate for tolerance. You can only impose and enforce. And that is why the EU is more likely to send the process into reverse. Telling people that their cultures are inferior, and to an extent immoral, is a sure fire way to drum up opposition. The EU has never sought consent. It has used coercion and subversion to extend its tentacles throughout Europe. It has never sought to persuade. It has used every opportunity to rush the agenda. That can never work.

Ultimately it is prosperous and free countries that spawn open and tolerant people. The focus has to be on the creation of wealth. But even in that the EU has stalled. They are out of ideas. The world is seeing a growth in non tariff barriers and the EU shows no signs of being able to break the deadlock. Meanwhile social progress is going into reverse and the Eastern European states are increasingly looking inward for solutions. The EU has no real response to this except to maintain the illusion of unity. Thus the self-image, like that of the remainers, is totally at odds with reality.

This of course it not surprising. To even be employed by the EU or one of the many satellite organisations you must share the delusion. Reality does not intrude. One must be marinated in political correctness and share the ideas and aspirations of the NGOcracy - and in so doing have that same casual contempt for democracy and ordinary people. And that is why Brexit is such a grievous loss to the precious little darlings. It is a living embodiment of their own narcissism - and Brexit deprives them of their emotional comfort blanket. 

This is why it suits remainers to believe the narrative that Britain is somehow devolving into an intolerant nationalism. For them the EU is the only vehicle imaginable in order to promote their so-called progressive values. A rejection of the EU is by proxy a rejection of them ergo the fault is ours, not theirs. What is that if not narcissism in its purest form?

If Europe is ever to be what remainers pretend it is, it will have to evolve without coercion. In this it will be through small increments created by people. A monolithic supreme government will always be alien to democracy. By removing the pretence that a united social Europe exists perhaps we might set upon building an authentic one.

In this I hesitate to use the word "millennials" but it does appear to be they who are most vocal remainers. Whenever these pathetic specimens speak to camera I see largely affluent, cosseted kids who have grown up in a sanitised environment and never once been exposed to adult realities. Their knowledge of the EU and its institutions is thin and they have never been taught anything beyond conformity.

This in some way explains the safe-space phenomenon. It stands to reason that they would prefer a remote corporate entity to manage European governance. Democracy by nature is messy and requires that people argue their case and seek to persuade. An orthodoxy cannot simply be imposed. And that is what frightens them the most - the idea that we might choose something different. They have so little faith in their own ideas that they need an authoritarian entity to keep democracy in check. This is how we sleepwalk into tyranny.

There is a lot to gain by maintaining close relations with the EU and the Brexit process will prove that divergence in most areas is neither possible nor desirable - but for once it will mean than those wanting things a certain way will have to argue their case. If ideas are as good as they say they are, let democracy be the judge. Brexit may not be the revolutionary catalyst many thought it would be but it is a sorely needed shock to the system. It's time these dismal miscreants rolled up their sleeves and started fighting for the world they want rather than waiting to be gifted one in their own image.

The death of grown up politics


Pictured is the S2R-T660 Archangel. The bastard love-child of a Pilatus Porter and a Piper Pawnee. Look at it. An airframe dating back to the late nineteen fifties yet an order has been placed by the United Arab Emirates. Yet their thinking is lightyears ahead of our own. Because look at it again. Look at what it can carry. These days it matters not what the airframe is. What matters is what it can carry and for how long. Here we see some of the most advanced and relatively expensive counter-insurgency weaponry to date.

It's faster than an Apache (£20m each) and has a flight endurance of ten hours. It costs less than $1000 per flight hour. The aircraft itself is as basic as basic gets, it's easily maintained and we could cover more ground for less money. But no, we must have big expensive things.

And when it comes to everything else where we need to improve capacity and value for money we have adopted the same mentality. HS2, Hinkley Point, Severn Lagoon and any number of local big expensive things. A park and ride scheme that nobody asked for maybe?

And this to me speaks to the weakness of our politics. It seems not to matter what we do just so long as we have a big expensive thing. Big expensive thing creates jobs. Big expensive thing ticks the boxes. Then the rest of the time we are pressed into buying small expensive things to make up for the capability gap caused by big expensive thing. Ordinarily small expensive thing would be a small inexpensive thing - but when you need it in a hurry and you need to save face, small inexpensive thing because small and ludicrously expensive thing.

This dynamic is often mistaken for inherent problems that come with government procurement. I think, however, it is indicative of another feature. Political vanity. Hinkley Point is a stop gap so that we can reach our vanity climate change targets. As is the Severn Lagoon. And when we look at defence procurement, it's not about satisfying any real military or practical requirement. It's just about having big boys toys. Fast jets and mean looking helicopters. The brass love them and it keeps the politicians in photo opportunities.

Throughout we have lost any sense of political maturity. Public scrutiny is a dead art. We notionally have MPs to stop governments using public funds to further their political vanity projects but the system of scrutiny has apparently collapsed. MPs are no longer capable of focussing on grown up issues and applying their intellect. Everywhere you look adult areas of policy, Brexit especially, are dominated by show-boating imbeciles playing to the media for political advantage. This is not sustainable if we wish to remain a first rate power in the world.

It was said during the referendum that an issue like the EU was too complex for the public to be able to vote on and that it should instead be left to the deliberative process. What we have seen though is that our politicians on both sides of the divide have an embarrassingly limited notion of what the EU is and what it does - and that they are ill equipped for such a momentous task. And that is why Brexit is necessary. We must shine more light on the fact that our political system is broken and those who slither into positions of influence are in no way fit to govern. Perhaps then we might get round to doing something about it.

We're back to democracy, warts and all


So Jeremy Corbyn is going to win it seems. David Wearing has some worthwhile observations on the choice now facing the Labour party.
The political and cultural theorist Jeremy Gilbert identifies two competing approaches as to how Labour should address the question of electability: marketing and movement-building. The marketing approach treats the electorate as consumers with fixed preferences, where the ideal politician is a polished salesperson armed with a perfectly calibrated retail policy offer. The movement-building approach treats public opinion as a changeable landscape, where elections are won not only by competent politicians but by social forces mobilised in support of a transformative agenda.

As Gilbert notes, the problem with the marketing approach is that it cannot explain how socio-political change happens. Imagine if Sylvia Pankhurst or Rosa Parks had said that “we have to accept where people are” on women’s rights, or “we understand the public’s legitimate concerns” on desegregation. The legacy of those figures, and thousands of activists like them, is a standing rebuke to the oft-repeated, ahistorical nonsense that Labour can achieve nothing with protest, but only by first winning power. In reality, the power to enact serious change can only be won by first preparing the ground through patient and committed grassroots action.
And that is why Corbyn is actually more electable than Owen Smith. He is building a movement. There's a certain fanaticism to it that means it could, in theory, succeed. All of us are utterly sick to death of presentation politics. We're bored of it and we've had two decades of it. There is an appetite for change and an appetite for choice. That in part explains the Brexit vote. Having the same old centrist consensus politicians telling us that their way is the only way is what drove the roar of defiance on the 23rd of June.

And that's why the "Tories for Corbyn" bunch had better shelve their complacency. After all we are headed for some interesting times. There's something about a movement that has a certain appeal. Politics with energy and a coherent agenda is tempting to the dispossessed. Ukip almost tapped into it but a monomania about immigration was never going to break out of the electoral cul de sac. And this is why Ukip doesn't have future.

Now that we are leaving the EU there are few reasons for anybody to stick around. Corbyn offers momentum in the real sense of the word which may tempt some of the old left back while Mrs May will be keen to demolish right wing Ukip by giving them almost everything they want. In fact, it's going to be a tough old time for people with pedestrian centrist views. They are now best represented by the wet lettuce Lib Dems who have nothing at all to say for themselves.

I think though that Mr Corbyn will end up on the rocks. Britain is a small-c conservative country and won't be taken for fools. In basic terms Mr Corbyn is playing Father Christmas promising a while load of free stuff. Moreover, his movement is built on tried, tested and failed ideas. If anyone is trying to take us back to the 1950's it is Corbyn.

One thing I have noticed about Corbyn's younger activists is that they are all about five years or so younger than me. Limp-wristed London types who have a lot in common with the more vocal remain campaigners. They're not actually old enough to remember that socialism really did suck and that government housing leads to violent slums. I am not in a rush to repeat that experiment nor am I keen on experiencing the horrors of British Rail again either. Thankfully, it's still the elders who tend to vote and they won't be as taken in by Corbyn's populism.

In response to Corbyn we will likely see a lot more red meat Toryism in the months to come. That ought to finish Ukip off. Ukip does not have a coherent platform, it cannot build a movement, it lacks the right kind of fanaticism beyond a strong dislike of Muslims and is just as stumped for ideas. Not to mention their new leader has all the charisma of a damp dishcloth while also being thicker than a tractor tyre.

It seems, though, that the biggest crisis in politics is a poverty of ideas. This week Michael Gove and Boris Johnson are pushing to recommission the Royal Yacht, which should be self-evidently moronic. It's such a crass idea that I'm genuinely surprised Ukip didn't beat them to it. Along with such an ideas drought we also have a class of politicians peculiarly unencumbered by an obligation to know what they are talking about. Listening to any prominent MPs talking about Article 50 and you can instantly tell they haven't even read it let alone thought about the implications of their respective proposals.

Just this week we've seen a reverse ferret on the single market from a number of remainer MPs. There's no way this is a genuine position. They just want to signal to their party followers that they have accepted the commonly assumed view that freedom of movement must end. Given that there are mechanisms in the EEA to control freedom of movement this is a deeply irresponsible position to take.

Moreover, it is utterly gutless. Ending freedom of movement will not make a significant impact on immigration and they know it. They need to stand firm and say so. But they won't. They go whichever way the wind blows. It is that basic lack of integrity that gives Mr Corbyn his mandate in the first place.

And this should be deeply worrying. I have never seen anything like it. Loathsome though Tony Blair was, he had an answer for every question. You may well have disagreed with what he said, but everything he said was a considered position. This is an entirely new age of fact free, ideas free, integrity free politics - right about the time when we needed intelligence and integrity above all other concerns. Some months ago I was wondering if politics could become any more crass and banal. I have come to learn that this a question one should never ask.

I made the case during the referendum that this probably would happen. That we would break away from the centrist politics that has plagued us for twenty years. It seems that has come sooner than I expected. It does seem, however, that the political choices will not be palatable ones for a time. Having put politics into deep stasis for twenty years we are going to have to let this virus run its course. It won't be pretty. It will take a new movement with new ideas to get Britain back on track.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Brexit rune reading

EUreferendum.com today picks up on something we have known for some time. Business would rather have regulatory stability than sweeping deregulation. Stability guarantees little change in their existing transaction infrastructure and they don't have to plan or train for a new regime. This runs counter to the classic Eurosceptic narrative that business doesn't like regulation.

And this tells us a lot about what we can expect Brexit to look like. As much as influential sources are telling Mrs May that things need to stay the same, we haven't got a replacement regime ready and de-regulatory moves at this point could cause as many problems as the resolve. Meanwhile, when we look at banking and finance regulation we see that much is dictated by global conventions and there is a broad desire to maintain equivalence with the EU. Embedded contractual quasi-legislation may make any divergence impossible.

And so we are back to that basic question again. What is the point of leaving the single market? Business is asking for regulatory continuity and Japan has made it clear that Authorised Economic Operator agreements are important for them along with the European Medicines Agency. One by one we see the demands pile up and the options closed down. Leaving the single market would only serve a function is there were significant parts of it we were looking to ditch but that list is turning out to be quite a short one.

The issue of passporting has become something of a talking point with some sources claiming it essential while others disagree. This has become the linchpin on which the single market debate turns. I have seen estimates that passporting is potentially worth one percent of GDP which is not insignificant - but if push comes to shove we can live without it. The remaining question is whether we gain much in other areas by losing it. Given that eurosceptic theories on trade are at best piss weak, Mrs May is likely to err on the side of caution.

It seems to me that if we are going to leave the single market then it will be for one reason only. To control borders. If that be the case then we're looking at major headaches, long periods of uncertainty and major delays. And given that we will want to see some open agreement on visas on the whole we are looking at only marginal "gains" in that respect.

In this it seems unlikely that Mrs May is willing to inflict a considerable damage on the country simply to appease the lunatic fringe. There are already signs that she has sidelined them. Boris Johnson appears to be getting on with the soft diplomacy and only David Davis is directly involved. Mrs May has him on a tight leash.

So if you were wondering why those grim Brexit prognostications are not coming true its because business has done roughly the same calculations. Single market divergence is barely practical, time consuming and not worth the bother. So it is now a question of whether we will use the EEA mechanism or whether Mrs May will seek to save face by cloning it and calling it something else. She will need to be persuasive in order to get concessions on freedom of movement but as far as most people are concerned, if good sense wins out, then day one of Brexit will be business as usual.

Meanwhile, in the media bubble, the clique of Open Europe, LSE and FT wonks seem to believe that a hard Brexit is the most likely outcome on the basis that nothing else will be politically acceptable. This is more assertion than observable fact. It's difficult to tell if it's political mischief making or sheer spite. There is no evidence to suggest that Mrs May is going to bow to her crackpot eurosceptics and there is no pressure to do so. Labour is no threat and Ukip is yesterday's news. The crackpot fringe are in no position to be making demands.

In the end, the Brexiteers are going to be the disappointed ones. They will get their blue passports and their scraps from the table - but if they wanted it some other way they should have had a plan - and something more substantive than twenty year old free trade mantras. They can't say they were not warned.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Yes, we need to "take back control"


Vote Leave was a pretty pisspoor campaign. Their slogan was "Vote Leave - take back control". They neglected to specify how we would take back control or why it was especially important that we do. The people most involved would struggle to know less about trade or regulation. The debate was centred around some pretty obsolete interpretation of how law gets made.

What The Leave Alliance has identified though, is not just the irrelevance of the EU to most regulation, but the obsolescence of it. Between International Organisations, International Private Regulators and standards bodies, technocracy has gone global in an unprecedented way and it is absolutely unstoppable.

The EU parliament cannot and does not modify them and increasingly the rules we follow end up being those produced by international bodies without much in the way of public scrutiny. Moreover I am not aware of any MEP with the necessary faculties to do any such thing.

As much as we have the EU dictating through directives and we have a system of statutory instruments meaning the EU is not the only source of foreign lawmaking. Effectively we have an open door for technical rulemaking and because we are members of the EU we have no independent vote, no right of opt out and no means of veto.

Tory leavers tell us that we should leave the EU so that we can "make our own laws". They've missed the point. Things work better if we have regulatory harmonisation and some technical standards require a degree of debate discussion and scientific research. There is no point replicating that at a local level and there is every point in collaborating at the regional and global level. It saves time and it saves money and reduces bureaucracy. Whether we like it or not, technocratic governance is here to stay.

What matters is that the people have some means of influencing these rules or refusing them. In the EU that mechanism is notionally the EU parliament but when most technical rules are agreed at the global level the EU parliament cannot amend such rules. At best they can delay them. If, however, we have defensive interests where we require an opt out, we are outnumbered in the EU significantly. We can register a reservation at the global level but the EU can unilaterally revoke it.

This is what makes Brexit more urgent. It mattered a lot less in those times where technocracy was mainly a preoccupation of the EU single market but as we see a global single market in regulations emerging it matters more than ever to have an effective goalkeeper and we need too close that open door so we can ensure that our business interests are not harmed and that jobs are protected. As a rule protectionism is bad but at other times, technical regulation can eliminate national traditions and kill off jobs for no commercial or cultural advantage.

Given that the world of quasi regulation and global standards has surpassed the EU and has grown beyond its control, we now need to develop domestic early warning institutions and we need a means of influencing the rules we follow. That is no longer the EU. We can go via the EU but only if the EU sympathises with our objections. Moreover we may wish to initiate global regulations in which case we have no right of initiative as EU members. Presently we must seek EU approval. This is wholly insufficient.

Continued EU membership robs us of vital safeguards against untempered globalisation and it removes our freedom to innovate. The Eurocentric view is that the uniformity of the single market must be preserved at all costs but that means our interest in expanding services is inhibited by French and German manufacturing defensive interests.

By restoring some control we can defend against the most egregious intrusions against democracy and we can have a more direct voice in how the rules are made. That is why staying in the EEA is sufficient for Brexit. There is no point leaving the single market if global rules are the same as EU rules. An EEA Brexit is more than enough to end EU supranational political integration while giving us the one thing we need the most. Independent control of our trade policy - which in turn gives us the power to control the laws that end up on our statute book.

We are now heading toward a world where the majority of technical rules and standards will be made by the universe of lawmaking bodies around the globe and increasingly the EU becomes a facilitator of hyper globalisation while removing any democratic constraints. This cannot be tolerated.

The inward looking notion of making all our own rules is an obsolete one and the idea we can or would wish to be significantly divergent is a flawed one. So too is the idea that we would necessarily close ourselves off from the EU by way of vetoing rules. More often than not we would vote with the EU - but the point of Brexit is so that we have a choice of which allies we pick according to our own strengths.

If we want to break out of stagnation then we must think about trade in entirely different ways and regulatory harmonisation is an incredibly powerful tool. Multiple small increments can deliver more value than EU promises of jam tomorrow. That though, means working collaboratively on all of the global bodies and working skillfully to bring about trade facilitation measures.

In that we must modernise out thinking about trade. Trade is no longer about taking foreign dignitaries out on the Royal Yacht and feeding them fine malts and brown envelopes. Trade is now a deeply technical process where what you bring to the table matters far more than market size or geographic proximity. The game has changed.

As much as Brexit means taking back control over those domestic areas we have neglected for so long like agriculture and fisheries - abandoning them to destructive EU one size fits all policies, we are taking back control of the regulatory agenda, not just from the EU but from the many corporate influences who dominate the international regulatory bodies. We are taking back control of our law making instruments - not to "make our own laws" - but to ensure British interests are defended and to ensure the people have the ultimate veto in the laws that we live by.

Just about everything you can now think of is regulated by global bodies from UNECE, ISO, Codex, FAO and the WHO. There are hundred of such bodies governing everything from the food we eat to the cars we drive, to the plumbing of the internet and planning of cities. There is every reason to promote global cooperation and harmonisation - but there are no excuses for shirking the responsibility to scrutinise and defend. The EU is no longer an appropriate vessel - if indeed it ever was, and if having a say in the rules was a good reason for joining the EEC then it is every reason to leave the EU.

If parliaments serve any purpose in this brave new world of self-regulating multinational corporations then it is to ensure that the people's interests are taken into account and that we have a goalkeeper to ensure our high standards are respected, upheld and promoted. That is why Brexit will give parliament a fresh mission and a new purpose when it wakes up from its EU induced coma. That is the control we need - and that is why Brexit must happen. We must not be passive victims of forces we have no defence against.

Unless you understand why the EU is pointless there is no point in leaving


Brexit as a revolutionary instrument is going to fail. The media is full of speculation as to whether it will be a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit. Politics demands a hard Brexit, economics demands a soft Brexit. In the end, soft Brexit wins because it's purely a question of who has the power. That's not us. Now Mrs May is landed with the job of stitching up the Norway Option and making it look like something it isn't.

She'll get away with it too. Kiptards are now drifting back to the Tories because they're going to get grammar schools and a blue passport. They were never in it for democracy. They really did just want to wind the clock back. Even now the Brexit proposal on the hard right is based on a world that no longer exists. Technocracy has gone global.

Toryboys think that by leaving the single market they get to deregulate and business will thank them for it. They are not on this planet. As I have outlined time and again, the EU merely implements global regulation - but very often business is ahead of the curve. Insurance contracts now invoke global regulations long before the EU has chance to implement them. As I understand it, SOLAS regulations on container weighing have not been turned into EU or US law yet but shipping insurance companies are saying that if exporters do not comply with the "guidelines" then they are not liable. Contract law uphold such quasi-legislation as law.

And that's why leaving the single market is pointless. Quasi-legislation has more power than even the EU. Once an insurance company recognises a corporate authority then so does the contractor and in turn all of their suppliers. So this notion that only 6% on UK businesses export to the EU means that we can diverge in regulation is wholly wrong. Standards and methods go all the way through the chain.

And so in a nutshell, without entering into Brexit with a view to curtailing the power of quasi regulation and using our veto, it doesn't even matter if we leave the EU. Global law will still reach our statute book by way of statutory instruments and since we are cutting out the middleman we will likely adopt it sooner than the EU.

In a lot of respects, since the EU cannot change global regulation anymore the EU is wholly pointless. That's a good reason to leave it but unless you understand why the EU is pointless there is no point in leaving it. And Brexiteers don't.

So if there is any victory at all it is that the EU supranationalsim aspect has been resolved - and Brussels cannot tell us what to do but if you have a government that will happily do it without even being told then you haven't actually won anything. Effectively the Brexit we get will be the Brexit we most deserve since Brexiteers were fighting the wrong battle for the wrong reasons without any real intellectual foundation.

Brexiteers fought to leave the EU for the sake of being out of the EU. That's understandable since the EU is loathsome and pointless but campaigning for Brexit as an end in its own right has not been a worthwhile pursuit for some time.

You can waffle on about "democracy" til the cows come home but if this is about taking power back for the people then Brexit is just a symbolic opening gesture. If the Kiptards and the Tory grunters are going to shut up shop now that they're getting grammar schools and blue passports then they never understood why we needed to leave in the first place. As much as they haven't realised this is a matter of who has the power, they wouldn't have the first idea what to do with it if they had it.

Personally I voted for Brexit to end EU level political integration. The economic integration can stay as it is - but if we are not aware of why we took the power back then there is no real point in having it.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Brexit is a hollow victory


Readers will probably be able to confirm this, but I think it was Peter Hitchens who was against the idea of a referendum. He took the view that unless it was a general election issue, being part of an overall reform agenda there is very little point. He was probably right - but since we had a referendum anyway I decided to fight it all the same - but with no real expectation of winning.

During the build up I remember sitting in Leave Alliance meetings thinking the whole thing was futile. The polls suggested a two to one defeat for leave and looking around at all the elements in the equation there was no reason to expect we could turn that around. Ukip was dire, Leave.EU was worse and eurosceptic MPs had no real idea what they were talking about. That was a bitter pill to swallow knowing we were about to blow our only chance in a generation.

Readers of this blogs will recall that even the night before the poll I fully expected to lose. If there was any chance of winning it was going to be through a last minute change of mood. A roar of defiance. And in the end it was the establishment who did the heavy lifting for us.

If one picture perfectly encapsulates the remain campaign it is that of Bob Geldof sneering at the flotilla of fishing boats. Then there was the whole nasty business surrounding the death of Jo Cox. Her body was still warm while the Spectator was penning accusatory venom directed at Brexiteers. For the remain camp it was an early Christmas.

Ultimately the remain camp lost because they had all the possible advantages they could want - and rubbed our noses in it. It was their conduct that ultimately gave us leavers the moral advantage. If anything Vote Leave's scaremongering over Turkish accession and Farage's "breaking point" poster cost us a larger majority.

But this is all ancient history. For now, the Toryboys will congratulate themselves for their role in the victory. Ukip will tell themselves that it was immigration that won it. History will filter out such biases over time. The final draft of history will look very different.

I do not see it as a victory though. I see it as a squandered opportunity. Just the other day Arron Banks was taunting me on Twitter saying "you said we wouldn't win without your plan - but we won without you!" - or words to that effect. And sundry other Toryboys have said roughly the same - that I did nothing but "whinge" throughout. So I have to ask what did we win exactly?

For starters we did not win £350m a week to lavish on our creaking health "service". And it rather speak to the cynicism and lack of imagination that membership fees would even be a central issue. For me the measure is whether we are going to get what we were fighting for.

What we will find in due course is that we have such a tangled web of cooperation agreements and international treaties that "out" looks very much like "in" so far as the average voter is concerned. Popular sovereignty has only been notionally restored and even though we can change things in theory, the reality is that we probably won't. We will have a veto on a great many things but we will likely will not use it most of the time.

I suppose it's good that we have the freedom to change things if we so wish which is a theoretical advantage but the problem is the "if we so wish" part of that equation. And this is the failure of the eurosceptic brigade. They always spoke of parliamentary sovereignty - which just means moving the power from one remote and aloof establishment to a similar one in London. 

Some say that now is the time to continue leveraging our victory but we don't actually have any leverage. The Conservative party is stronger that it has been for a decade, Ukip is collapsing and the opposition is in a real mess. Meanwhile, the majority for Brexit is so slender that the government doesn't have to do anything radical. So in terms of a recognition of the people's sovereignty goes we are no further forward. Brexit is a symbolic victory, but in practical terms will make little difference.

The fact is, even though we have give the establishment a kicking, it's one they will bounce back from. Leaving the EU is the last thing they wanted to do and it does smash a cosy consensus among our insular political class but Brexit is something which can easily be corrupted. Brexit may mean Brexit but is it our Brexit or their Brexit? Chances are it will be their Brexit because there is no movement threatening their ownership of the issues. MPs are no longer worried about their seats and and the Tories fully expect to sail through the next general election.

The Brexit they will deliver is more than likely going to be unsatisfactory to Ukippers and eurosceptics but the government can get away with it. There is no advantage to the hard Brexit they push for and no mandate for it either. The Leave movement is stuffed because the demands they made are simply not deliverable. International cooperation costs money and one way or another we will be paying substantial sums into the EU budget or directing it on trade missions elsewhere. New trade agreements do not fall out of the sky.

Had there been a plan and a series of deliverable objectives, the leave campaign would still be in operation and dictating the agenda. It may even have had a larger mandate and even won considerable support from the remain side after the fact. But no, "we don't need no stinking plan" they said. And certainly not Flexcit.

The mistake we made was selling Flexcit on the premise that it initially compromises on Freedom of Movement relying on what we were then calling an emergency brake. Resistance to that idea was to strong in the wake of Ukip fashioning itself as populist anti-immigration party. Ukip however, argue that we would never have had the referendum had they not done so. Fine. But we would at least still have a counter-establishment movement and leverage over the government which is actually more valuable than Brexit. 

Ukip should have been patient and played the long game. Farage traded sustainable growth for rapid expansion and in so doing turned a respectable small-c conservative party into a mass of grunting knuckle-scrapers and village idiots. Having drummed out anybody capable who would pose a threat to him, all that is left after his departure are the intellectually subnormal. Even by MP standards Ukippers are thick. 

I am told that Brexit is a great moment. And for a brief time I allowed myself to enjoy the moment. But it is a hollow victory. We even knew it on the day. It should have have been a moment for elation but it didn't feel like a victory I could own. I celebrated like all the other leavers but ultimately all we've done is cash in our chips leaving the job half done. Worse still, the likes of Arron Banks and Vote Leave don't even see how we have all been completely outmanoeuvred. 

To the eurosceptics Brexit is an event, not a process. To them it is the end in itself rather than the beginning. They are happy be to be slaves of the system just so long as the system is waving a Union Jack rather than a ring of stars. Having people make choices for them is ok just so long as they're in London and not Brussels. And where is the point in that?

In most respects the EU was an abstract element in the referendum campaign. For sure we got plenty of opportunity for a good moan about the EU but this really was a domestic dispute. In the end it was a plebiscite against the establishment and a culture war on London. So why are we happy to leave the job half done? The Westminster bubble is still as insular as ever, the Brexit shock will soon wear off (if it hasn't already) and pretty soon we'll be back to business as usual. 

The truth is that there are no shortcuts to meaningful change in politics. Politics is like a big jelly mould. You can keep the pressure on and change the shape of it but if you release the pressure it will wobble back to its original form. And that is what it will do now. Mrs May will negotiate an EEA solution - or something akin with it - but mainly as a means to park Brexit rather than a means to an end. 

This is why those of a revolutionary disposition would prefer to see a hard Brexit as it's the only way  to guarantee sweeping change - but the change they propose is as the remain camp always said it was - a leap in the dark. Though I dislike the EU intensely I am not going to push for a hard Brexit on the back of John Redwood's free trade fantasies, nor am I in any rush to experience whatever it is the left wing leavers have in mind. They propose a lot of economic pain but have no destination in mind, just so long as it has nothing to do with the EU. That is no basis for a political revolution.

And this is really why we didn't want Roland Smith going off half cock, appropriating Flexcit for the Adam Smith Institute. Stage one of Flexcit was only ever the first step. If you're campaigning only for an EEA endgame then you might as well have voted to remain because it's only marginally better than the EU - and a lot of expense to get there. 

In that regard the likes of the ASI and the Institute of Economic Affairs are part of the problem - pushing something they have only half understood. It seems Ben Kelly and Roland Smith were more interested in making a name for themselves in the bubble than actually achieving anything in their own right. But that goes with the territory it seems. Euroscepticism is marked by self-serving chancers for whom theft is no real obstacle. Just like the rest, they'll enjoy their moment in the spotlight - but ultimately join the herd in producing generic, derivative crap.

Howsoever, this is where I get off the bus completely. The upcoming Harrogate Agenda meeting is now the focus of my attention and we'll see what is left to work with. At least we've rid ourselves of the parasites. It's just a shame that they, along with the rest of the eurosceptics, were so completely lacking in vision. For a time there, we were making some progress.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Brexit: the revolution that never was


This blog will not be continuing that much longer. All things being well I will be moving away from politics in the very near future and back into the real world. But I have some reflections I feel at liberty to share with you now. Brexit as a revolutionary instrument has failed.

If you think back to the run up to the general election, Ukip was talk of the town. They were going to storm the castle walls and take the establishment on in their home turf. It didn't happen though. All eyes were on Ukip to see if they were made of the right stuff, but in the end what shone through was their complete lack of intellectual foundation and total lack of competence.

The Farage mirage jumped the shark long before polling day - and by polling day had become so odious that everyone was itching to see the whole enterprise fail. And oh boy did it deserve to. The anti-immigration rhetoric brought all the worst people out of the woodwork in support of Ukip.

Though Ukip at the core are just a bunch of very ordinary people with fairly pedestrian small-c conservative views, the vanguard of their online efforts was a small but particularly unpleasant and very vocal band of grunting misanthropes with a fixation on Muslims.

After a long and bitter election campaign I was truly delighted to watch Farage's face as he realised his holy grail of a seat on the green benches would never be a reality. But on that day also came the realisation we had a referendum to fight. Before that though there was the battle for the campaign designation.

The original intent was that The Leave Alliance was going to put in a bid but we were caught off guard and never had the resources to mount a credible challenge. We did however have one thing the other contenders did not. A plan. Through Twitter we eventually got the attention of Arron Banks and there were a number of talks with regard to the adoption of Flexcit - a plan that would take us beyond Brexit. To cut a long story short, that same contingent of malevolent Ukippers rapidly bullied Banks into a u-turn. Banks was a coward.

It later transpired that Leave.EU never had any intention of professionalising and was intent on being as foul as possible. It left the Electoral Commission with no real choice but to select Vote Leave. The bid submitted by Banks was sloppy and unprofessional. And that is how we ended up with a Toryboy outfit like Vote Leave, coming out of nowhere, running the show with their bogus promises of £350m a week for the NHS.

And now what have we? A very problematic win. In most respects Vote Leave failed to register at all with the media unless it was being especially obnoxious. It certainly didn't win any new friends. What swung it in the end was a two fingered salute to the government and the remain campaign who had been complacent, snobby, condescending and negative throughout. Much of the debate went on without any real reference to the EU. We were not sold on the idea of the EU - only the problems created if we left.

It seems to me that the EU was an abstract element in the whole campaign and nobody even attempted to sell the broader ideals of the EU to the public. So in the end it was a plebiscite against the establishment in a one shot deal that was more to do with domestic politics and a culture war on London than anything else.

So what we have is a corporate shell of a campaign, with no movement behind it, no real traction among its backers and a handful of empty marketing slogans which are politically unrealisable. Points based immigration systems and £350m to spend on whatever your pet hobby horse is.

And with Ukip having vacated the field entirely, turning on itself and ceding its left wing support to Jeremy Corbyn, there is now no movement at all in place to threaten the status quo or leverage anything more than a damp squib Brexit. Certainly nothing that can be carried beyond into a movement for democratic reforms. There is now a shadow organisation in the image of Vote Leave but it is not a genuine grass roots organisation. It is one of Matthew Elliott's sock puppets.

Apart from the tokenistic appointment of some useful idiots - Leadsom, Davis, Johnson and Fox, there are no leavers in any positions of real power. Certainly nobody who is a threat to Mrs May. One by one they will be weeded out and sidelined leaving a broadly europhile one nation Conservative party to deliver Brexit on our behalf. The insurgency has defeated itself and because its core grievance of the EU is neutralised as an issue there absolutely nowhere for it to go.

And just this week some have voiced the view that somehow I would rather we lost the referendum. That's a tough one. You see I would very much like to see the establishment cleared out and see a movement for democratic reform punch through in its wake - and now because of such a lacklustre Brexit campaign with no movement behind it, that won't happen. We are leaving the EU by accident with a slender mandate and the government gets to define what Brexit means. This is not the Brexit I was looking for.

Why sure, we're leaving the EU, and hooray for that, but it will be a managed Brexit where the right are thrown a few bones to chew on like grammar schools and a climate sceptic in the environment ministry, but on the whole the establishment has seen us coming - and in a masterful display of political judo has thwarted what could have been a sea change in politics. We blew it.

But now that we have blown it, I'm wondering if I even give a toss. After all Britain would not be better off for being run by libertarian fanatics like Carswell, Hannan and Redwood. As much as these are singularly stupid people they have shown themselves to be calculating, shallow and thoroughly dishonest. Would a revolution from the Tory right and their Ukip bedfellows be a Britain I want to live in? Ten years ago maybe. Now? Mrs May will do me just fine given all the alternatives.

That though does not mean I am satisfied with the political settlement. Brexit is only half a job and if the mission was to return the power to the people then the Brexit we get doesn't even scratch the surface. We're back at square one - back where we were when I was a kid attending meetings with Farage and Sked speaking to audiences of three in Lancashire church halls.

We have come full circle and in the end have accomplished nothing. The Ukip that we developed from next to nothing now occupies the space in the spectrum once occupied by the BNP at its peak and is fishing in roughly the same pond - give or take.

Through Farage's skilful political assassinations there is nobody in the party with any talent or political nous. There is no coherent intellectual framework and chances of winning a Westminster seat in their own right haven't looked this bleak for a decade. How different things could have been had Farage been a competent leader.

In five years time we will have a middle of the road centrist Conservative government, purged of the discredited Brexiteers, with a dilapidated Labour party struggling to put up a fight, and Britain will be lodged in an annexe of an EU treaty until the EU silently fades into obscurity. I wonder, what was it all for? Not for a marginal reduction in immigration I hope.

If Brexit were to have any revolutionary potential it needed skilful, knowledgeable leavers at the forefront working to a plan with a movement behind it. And that needed to be in place years before now. Vote Leave should never have even had a look in. The lead campaign should have been territory owned by Ukip. In the end though, it could not deliver the goods - so if you want someone to blame for the revolution that never was, Nigel Farage is your man.