Sunday, 28 February 2016

Brexit: the default option

The Remain camp keep saying "Leave doesn't know what out looks like". This blog does. But for reasons that escape me, Vote Leave is still wedded to the suicide option and Leave.EU honestly can't tell their arse from their elbow. At this point it really is better if they advance no plan at all. The window of opportunity has been and gone.

If we are to reassure voters, it will have to be through Leave Alliance efforts, and we can only do what we can with what we have (and yes that is a hint for a donation).

We know about the options punted by the pundits, and we can say with confidence that their understanding is shallow. Since this blog has already been over the basics, I thought it would be a useful exercise to to imagine what the default option looks like. 

We know that full and immediate severance, as Vote Leave proposes has no basis in reality. Neither party would seek it, and would actively seek to avoid such a disaster. A sudden death Brexit has massive consequences for Britain and the EU alike, nobody wants it therefore they will not let it happen.

From a starting point we will want to retain our preferential access to the single market. We will not want tariffs, but more than this we will want to retain our customs privileges. At the very worst this means a non-tariff agreement along with a mutual recognition agreement, which could be fixed up in a hurry, but would be ill advised in that there is still much more ground to cover.

Since the negotiations will be conducted by a government that doesn't even want to leave, it will likely look at off the shelf solutions. This means we'll look at every existing legal instrument presently available In this, the one silver bullet is the EEA. It takes care of the fundamentals.

This will cause uproar at homes for all the people who thought they were voting to take control of our borders as the EEA means freedom of movement. The government will then change its tune on the Norway Option and point to the EEA emergency brake which is far more substantial than the flimsy "reforms" the PM has notionally secured. The public will not like it but as far as the government is concerned, it will be delivering on that which it has a mandate to do: leave the EU. This isn't a referendum on controlling immigration.

Those who are outraged by this will have only themselves to blame for going gone along with the bovine Farage notion that freedom of movement means open borders. Being stupid sucks doesn't it?

There will be those who mutter about the Swiss Option, but they haven't stopped to ask if the EU wants that. It doesn't. It puts Switzerland in a perpetual state of constitutional crisis and the EU is less than amused at having to tailor its own internal system for the benefit of the Swiss alone. With the clock ticking on Article 50 negotiations nobody will be in a mood to mess around.

In every respect both sides will play it safe. What we end up with will be as close to EU membership without actually being EU membership. And that's a good thing because it gives us much of what we want in the first instance - out of the EU, able to trade freely, a veto on new laws we don't want and control over fishing and agriculture.

If we want to go further we will have to evolve out of the EEA one issue at a time. Adding our weight to Efta, we have a good deal of leverage to renegotiate or even replace the EEA agreement for all Efta members - but that comes afterwards. In the meantime, our main concern is leaving the EU.

This is why the Leave campaign should be looking to play the long game and accept that Brexit is a process and not an event. Instead of pushing for the suicidal stupid and politically unrealisable sudden death Brexit, they should be pushing for the staged withdrawal, not least because an EEA settlement, with full market access and no change to the business environment takes the sting out of all of the scare stories.

Naturally, because the Leave movement is made up of ignorant kippers and delusional Tory free marketeers, they are not going to drop their delusional fantasies and so the Leave Alliance campaigning on this plan will be like trying to take off with the brake parachute fully deployed. Never in my life have I encountered a bunch so impervious to reality.

But in any case in any realistic scenario, we will see continued single market membership simply because the consequences of any other route are unthinkable to both Britain and the EU - and their best economists will be telling them the same. Brexit will mean the hard line leavers making massive compromises they were not anticipating and this is largely their own fault for being so intellectually ill-equipped and underprepared.

Naturally this will have some people asking why we should even bother - and that is really why I expect we will fail, because while the Leave campaigns won't admit Brexit their fantasies are delusional, the public will gradually get wind of the basic Brexit facts of life - and nobody apart from us lowly bloggers will be making a coherent case as to why it's still worth the trouble.

The answer of course is what we do after Brexit. We have so many choices in so many things, including the potential for massive democratic reform. This is the vision we should have been selling from the beginning. But instead we have incompetent Leave campaigns whose whole vision doesn't extend much further than closing the borders, and cluelessly hacking away at regulations. Were I not aware of what was at stake and what we could have instead of the EU, I certainly wouldn't vote for these losers.

That said, with our collective hit traffic across our network of blogs and our increased retweets, I am starting to feel a little more optimistic. I think a good many Brexit campaigners are starting to see the folly of dogmatic eurosceptic ideas and are starting to turn to the blogs for fresh angles. Though we may never reach large audiences, ideas have power and travel fast. It is for this reason I will be blogging until my fingers bleed. We might just make a difference. That said, if we win, it will be in spite of the leave campaigns - not because of them.

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