Friday, 29 April 2016

Brexit: missing the point on regulation


Daniel Hannan whingeing about car seat rules for children is exactly why Leave deserves to lose. James McGrory, Chief Campaign Spokesman of Britain Stronger in Europe has aid “Daniel Hannah’s attitude is typical of the dangerous anti-regulation zealotry which typifies the Leave campaigns.” And indeed it is.

It isn't faceless bureaucrats in Brussels who sit dreaming up safety regulations. In this instance it would be the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in conjunction with Global NCAP - now the benchmark for world safety standards in the automotive sector. Standards for child seats are based on crash test results. They make sense - and it makes sense to do it at the regional and global level.

In this I have genuinely no idea why you would object to improving the chances of your child surviving a collision. I am sure there is a generic libertarian argument, and I'm sure that we could invoke a rabble rousing reference to Edmund Burke on why it is every parents right to see their mangled offspring bleeding to death in their shitty BMWs, but seriously there are times when libertarians just need to keep schtum if only to enhance the credibility of their arguments. "Demand the right to kill your children!" is not a winning Brexit argument.

We had these same silly debates about passenger side wing mirrors and later seatbelts. Now I know nobody who doesn't think seatbelts are a good idea. More to the point, In most instances, we would adopt such global standards in or out of the EU. Especially those pertaining to the manufacture of vehicles because we can't export if we don't.

The point about regulation as far as the Brexit debate is concerned is that we want an enhanced say in how they are made and which ones we adopt. I cannot imagine any circumstance where parliament could or should reject child seat safety measures, but the issue is that sometimes the rules are either too weak or ineffectual or less safe than our own. Life-saving equipment for children is probably the last thing I would pick to demonstrate this point.

But this really does matter. The Brexit debate is trapped in a monomania about tariffs but as I keep saying, the essence of modern trade deals is the removal of technical barriers to trade. One of the key tools in opening up markets is the Mutual Recognition Agreement. There are times when we cannot expect other countries to comply with the global or regional standards because their own are different and are too deeply embedded in their own industries. And so we do quality inspections to see if they are equivalent.

If it is established that two regimes are similar than we can establish an agreement that to meet one standards is as good as meeting the other. In this, because it is a trade concern, the EU has exclusive right to make that call. That is how we ended up opening up our markets to dangerous Chinese fireworks. Great for teenage pyromaniacs, not so great for parents.

As it happens, UNECE standards that the EU adopts are based on a wide consultative consensus on vehicle safety issues between governments, industry and consumers, calling in expertise from all the major Western academic institutions. I have every confidence in them and it makes no sense to duplicate the effort. However, China Automotive Technology and Research Center (CATARC) which runs C-NCAP, on the other hand, is a government-affiliated institute and operates largely in secret - and obviously in a foreign language which takes it out of the Western sphere of transparency.

Chinese Automotive blogger ChinaAutoWeb has some serious concerns about C-NCAP asking if the system is a scam purely to gain access to European markets. "The program lacks neutrality and fairness due to its for-profit activities. For those automakers who choose to pay for the crash tests of their own models, the program routinely selects as test cars models of top trim levels, which come with more safety features, even if those models are rare on the market."

"Compared with NCAP tests in other parts of the world, the tests C-NCAP carries out are often insufficient, less strict, and based on compromised requirements. C-NCAP administers three tests: frontal of 100% and 40% overlap and side impact, omitting pedestrian protection, rear impact, and side impact pole tests. And it usually crashes cars at a lower speed than other NCAPs, opting for 50km/h in the frontal test–compared with 64km/h in Europe, Australia and Latin America, and 56km/h in the US. What’s more, a model can get credits for many extra-test factors, such as how many airbags it has, whether the seatbelt reminders are installed, and the way it gives out these extra credits often seems inconsistent and arbitrary." Alarming stuff.

And that is why Britain is better off out of the EU. Not for a minute do I believe that entrusting the EU with such critical decisions is a good idea. The EU is under serious pressure to demonstrate that it can open up new trade deals for us and that it can break out of stagnation. As we have seen, there is nothing it won't do to secure an agreement. It will sell out Syrian refugees. It will turn a blind eye to massive human rights abuses, and it won't let a thing like a corrupt safety regime stand in the way either. Without a veto or an opt out at the global level there is every reason to believe we could see Chinese death-sheds on our roads.

There will always be a need for regulation and regulated markets and there are always going to be compliance costs and they will always be a cause for grumbling from business and industry. We cannot expect that they will not cause us personal inconvenience either - but everything has been improved by safety regulation. Electrocutions from faulty electronics are almost a thing of the past, housefires are almost unheard of these days and road fatalities are collapsing.

What matters is that we have a full role in scrutinising regulations and have a say in when we adopt them and a strong hand in the inspection and enforcement of them. Not only does Brussels tell us what the rules are, it also tells us when we must implement them (regardless of how many jobs they kill) and what the penalties are for breaches. In a very real sense we have lost control over what we allow into the country and how we legislate around it. That is the central issue, not silly bent banana histrionics from the likes of Daniel Hannan.

In or out of the EU we will adopt global standards and regulations from the top tables. The point of Brexit is that we want a seat at those top tables and a right of opt out. By leaving the EU we get an independent vote, right of reservation and a direct line to the top table rather than going through the EU middleman. Brexit is not about deregulation. It's about having a say in the rules and being able to improve them by increasing our particpation. 

It's about creating frameworks we can all agree on which extend beyond the confines of little Europe, thus creating a global single market. The dismal notion that we must take a stand against child safety equipment is precisely why eurosceptics are perceived as little Englanders who want to turn the clock back. The intellectual inconsistency from Hannan is precisely why nobody believes us when we say we want to go global. 

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