Sunday, 31 July 2016

A lack of Brexit direction

On Thursday I spoke at the Invoke Democracy Now event. Very glad to hear some rational and sensible thinking from Lee Jones. Such is in short supply at the moment.

Sadly, much of the debate was given over to when Article 50 should be invoked. It is a pointless discussion. Bicycle shed syndrome methinks. It is not going to happen this year. Procedure and process forbid it and there is no tactical value in accelerating the process. Getting caught up in that debate distracts from other more urgent matters.

For my part I hoped to bring some idea of how complex the process is and some idea of the traps following Brexit. I don't think I succeeded in that there really isn't any way to do the subject justice in fragmented segments with time constraints.

We heard from Luke Gittos of Spiked Online telling us that we should invoke Article 50 now and hang the consequences, and in the process he dismissed the technical issues I attempted to raise. His view is that "it's not rocket science to negotiate an exit in two years".

Not wishing to be rude but if you think that, you haven't even begun to understand what the EU is, how the system works or the gravity and scale of Brexit. In dismissing the technical challenges involved one dismisses the very nature of the EU. The machine turns on technicality and technocracy and there are serious ramifications for getting it wrong.

Regulation may seem like peripheral minutia but it is at the very core of trade and single market functioning and will be a huge aspect of Brexit negotiations. Reconciling technocracy with democracy is the core cultural conflict in this whole debate. To dismiss this kind of detail is to retreat to the comfort zone of populism which can very easily be identified, ridiculed and ignored. Any movement wanting a seat at the table will have to have credible and tangible demands.

It seems that people are so used to hearing from remainers that Brexit could have severe consequences that they will dismiss such complications even when a leaver is saying it.

What is clear is that there is only a very thin understanding of the process, what can be achieved and what we expect to gain from Brexit. We are all agreed that pressure must be exerted on the government but without a coherent set of demands the government gets to define what Brexit is and what it looks like.

The government has an instruction to leave the EU but to simply demand an exit without purpose is to reduce it to a transactional process. If leaving the EU is not part of a wider agenda then the government will seek a path which is merely damage limitation rather than setting about more ambitious and revolutionary ideas. We won't be any better off for it.

There is clearly an energy to the debate and people are keen to capitalise on the political opportunities Brexit presents, but there is no real consensus on what those opportunities are or how to exploit them. That in part is down to a superficial understanding of what the EU is and the extent of integration. There is an ideas vacuum and no direction to the debate. It's like people have been unplugged from the matrix and their political muscles have atrophied. Politics is a lost art it seems.

The people behind Invoke Democracy Now are motivated by a fear that Brexit will not happen. My fear is that it will happen, but without real objectives in mind and then the Brexit process coasts into a cul-de-sac with no idea where to go next. That is more likely, and if that is the case then we really might as well not have bothered.

Every moment we waste bickering over Article 50 is time we could have spent exploring what Brexit really means. If we can't decide what we want then somebody will decide for us and we will have wasted a once in a generation opportunity.

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