Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Brexit extremists must not be allowed to win

I've never liked the EU. It's remote, dictatorial and despite the faux-parliament it isn't a democracy. There isn't a European demos. The EU is not a government constituted by the people for the people. It is a construct of our political elites. But then it stands atop of what is broadly a good thing. A region whereby goods, services and people people can cross borders freely inside a system which manages the externalities and threats. This what we call the single market.

Mainly the reason it works to a large extent is because we all agree to do things a certain way. And at the formation of the single market that's exactly what we did. Only somewhere along the line we ceded way too power to the central entity and allowed it to dictate. We now do things a certain way not because we consent to it but because we are told to.

We are told there are democratic mechanisms to curb its excesses but few believe that is true and the majority of people in the UK think this must change. It's not that we won't consent to doing things a certain way but we want to ensure that we are asked and that we have a means of opting out. It is essential to democracy and for the preservation of those things that make us distinctive.

There are those who would like nothing more than to end all EU cooperation and break away from the single market entirely. This is based on a flawed assumption that the rules and regulations we follow make it harder to do business with the rest of the world. There might have been a time when that was true but in recent years the rest of the world has also decided that on balance these rules, regulations and standards work in the best interests of all of us. They have, through various international measures, opted into the global standard which is more or less the EU standard.

And so were we to go a different way we would be exempting ourselves not only from free trade with the EU but also anyone else who operates to the same standard. The short of it is, were we to pull out of the single market then we would be going against the global trend and erecting barriers to trade where none presently exist.

The fact is that a full disengagement from the single market is also a disengagement from the world and a retreat into a fantasy world of "free trade" that hasn't existed for centuries. Even without the EU we are hardcoded into global trade agreements, many of which are simply installed by the EU on our behalf and we would have agreed to them anyway. So really this notion of full divergence is one that has no real benefit.

In this, we might not want the EU telling us which trade agreements to sign or what rules to follow but most of them are in some way in the common good, as are the many EU level agencies that monitor and inspect supply chains and ensure conformity. For sure we could unilaterally pull out of them but we would have to develop our own domestic bureaucracy to carry out the same functions and they would still have to liaise with the EU offices. In some cases there is a good reason for doing so but in other cases there is no value whatsoever in divergence.

So really the process of Brexit is a matter of defining what sort of relationship with want with the EU as the base level of cooperation until integration is about the same level we would seek with any other modern trading nations. The world is becoming more connected where we get better, cheaper goods faster from all over the world. The aim should not be to retreat from this but to enhance it while seeking to strike the right balance between openness and democracy.

In that estimation there is no way that the EU can ever be properly representative or even close to democratic. The EU executive making choices for half a billion people is intolerable. And so we have left the EU in order to choose and negotiate our level of cooperation rather than have it tell us what to do. In that we have our red lines and so does the EU. So it might be an idea to at least know what we want to achieve and what compromises we are willing to make.

To my mind the aim of Brexit should be to break away from the deadlock of further EU integration and look outward using our technical, scientific and academic resources to bring other nations into the fold, making a global community of equals, choosing to integrate as far as they wish to. In so doing we weaken the EU's influence over the regulatory agenda and build a global single market where goods can cross border freely the world over.

That means we must step up our particpation on all of the global forums where previously we have abdicated such functions to the EU or been subordinate to it. It does not mean an end to close relations with the EU nor does it mean an end to closer technical integration. It just means that there are limits on the EU's influence over things that ought to remain under the direct influence of national and local assemblies where decisions have no real impact on global supply chains. To actually have the subsidiarity the EU pretends to embody.

Sooner or later the world will be a single market with ever more international convergence on customs procedures, regulations and standards. Brexit is about asserting our position as an independent nation within it. That does not mean that deep European level cooperation is not desirable. If the Toryboys think Brexit gives them free license to hack away at environmental and labour market regulations then they are mistaken. These are covered by any number of global conventions and there will be little in the way of domestic consent to undo what has been done.

In this we need to wake up that Brexit is just one milestone on a continuous road. The next task is to shine a light on all of the obscure international governance and in some way democratise it. For all the fuss about TTIP it is only the tip of the iceberg. The is EU is a as fused with global governance as we are with the EU. Merely identifying where one ends and the other begins is a mammoth task of its own.

The purpose of Brexit is not to withdraw from EU cooperation. The purpose is to end the ratchet of political integration. From that we must design our own path and seek out our own opportunities. In order to do so we must recognise the EU is no longer the beast we voted for in 1975. Britain has voted for an end to EU control but the majority of people did not vote for the consequences of a hard Brexit. We will have to make compromises and there can be no red lines for their own sake.

In the end David Cameron could not secure an end to ever closer union. He couldn't secure any unilateral tools to control EU immigration and no powers were returned. Reform of EU institutions was never even up for debate. It is that which ultimately made Brexit necessary. That though is no reason for animosity. The matter is now settled. We are traveling down another path.

In the first instance the EEA as a safe harbour gives us the relationship notionally sought by Mr Cameron and gives us genuine controls on freedom of movement. That though will always be insufficient. The EEA agreement is not without flaws and will not appease many who voted for Brexit. For the time being that should not concern us. The immediate goal is to ensure that we have left the EU and have done so in a way that lets us take our time in uncoupling some of the most technical legal frameworks that have ever existed.

By coordinating external pressure along with Efta, Britain stands to achieve a great deal in breaking down barriers to single market particpation and it does give us the tools to reform long neglected areas of policy.

The assertion that the EEA is somehow not Brexit is a deception put about by those hostile to the EU on every level. Those who refuse to acknowledge the complexities and potential ambushes. These are people who would happily bulldoze a house without checking for occupants first, not caring who gets hurt in the process. We should not sacrifice stability for expediency nor should we needlessly risk jobs and opportunities in order appease the unappeasable. Britain may have voted to end EU membership but we have not voted to open up hostilities with the EU and nobody is served by an acrimonious break.

At every step of this process we should be careful to keep options open. Brexit is not a one way street and we will need the EU's cooperation and future friendship in order to make it work. Controlling immigration is not the primary driver of Brexit and we should not be in a rush to demolish our international standing on the basis of cheap campaign slogans.

For all its flaws, our representative democracy is there to defend against extremes except in exceptional circumstances. While Brexit is most definitely unprecedented, there is no state of emergency that necessitates a rushed and hostile split. We took decades to go this far into the EU and it is unreasonable to think it can be undone in just a short time. We have an enormous task ahead, so please, let's not pretend there are simple answers.

Nihilistic wreckers would happily see the whole thing collapse in order to rebuild their perfect order according to one or other doctrine - but have no real conception of what they are destroying or why - or indeed what they would replace it with. It would be a failure of politics were we to let them define Brexit. In all likelihood would be the first to whine about the consequences.

What is needed is a consensus approach guided by a vision mindful of the fact that all voices matter - not just the zealots on the right. Brexit is not catastrophe - but in the wrong hands, it very easily could be. While I cannot speak for all who voted to leave I don't think anybody wants to see Britain a less tolerant, smaller and poorer place. To avoid that end we must seek out a roadmap that speaks to the reality of the situation we find ourselves in rather than the fantasies of those who don't care what happens just so long as we leave.

No comments:

Post a Comment