Thursday, 6 October 2016

The biggest benefit to Brexit of all

This link directs to an entertaining evisceration of Chris Grayling after having remarked that Brexit means we can dispense with EU rules governing railway platform heights. One really wonders that this is the sort of burning issue that motivates politicians to bring about the biggest political upheaval since the war. I suspect though, if we scratched the surface we would find the issue is multifaceted and part of an overall European transport strategy where we could find some legitimate cause to complain if we looked hard enough.

But it's unfair to pick on Brexiteers for not knowing where various rules and regulations come from in that ignorance over technical rules and standards can be distributed fairly evenly. In fact, the only mainstream media hint that there are other players at work came just two days before the referendum with a post from Christian Friis Bach, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, penning for the Huffington Post in which he observes that cucumber marketing standards are in fact a product of UNECE and not the EU.

"The cucumber standard is a good standard. And the world needs significantly more cooperation on standards of all kinds, be it in the UN or in the EU. And even if you do not agree, then remember if you hear the cucumber critique: do not blame the EU. Credit the UN."

If our media was adequate to the task it would not be speaking of EU regulations and instead properly identifying the source but UNECE is only wheeled out when politically convenient. The same can be said of politicians. That then begs the question as to whether we have any business ceding power to the EU when our politicians don't know what it is or what out does and in what circumstances. For sure, the Brexiteers have been caught out by their own ignorance but that ignorance is matched by those remainers who think that the EU is the source of regulation.

Now that we are leaving we landed with the task of sorting it all out. First up we have to separate fact from fiction and in due course we will discover that our international obligations and trade commitments mean that there is little or no scope for divergence in or out of the single market.

When the penny does drop it will be the remainers once again making the running. They will crow that Brexit doesn't mean "taking back control" after all and that we are still lumbered with the same technocracy only we will take it direct from the source instead of via the EU. They will gleefully parade this fact to all who will listen. The sharper ones among them, possibly Ian Dunt (when he's finished catastrophising Brexit as though it were the rise of the Fourth Reich) will then notice the means by which such rules end up on the statute book.

By way of various statutory instruments we adopt whole tranches of quasi-legislation which is as much a WTO obligation as any specific trade deal or treaty. That's when they will once again assume the high ground in pointing out that laws are made without much in the way of a democratic process. That's when we leavers will point out that to object to this means one must also necessarily object to the EU. The presence of a potemkin parliament in the EU where overpaid button pushers vote to lists presented to them by their groups is by no means an adequate system of scrutiny.

What Brexit will reveal is that the EU has concealed the presence of a vast globalised law making machine which has hitherto been obscured by Brussels. If our hack-o-sphere is on the ball they will then be asking where the democratic accountability is in all this. What they will discover, as indeed we have, is that the system is out of control. Not out of control in a hyperbole sense but in a very real sense that it is vast, extremely active and nobody is paying it any real attention.

When our political machine does finally wake up to what has happened they will then begin to realise the obsolescence of the EU, along with the vast potential of what is developing in its place. By way of being out of the EU we will have the right of initiative on all the global regulatory bodies and sufficient clout to sponsor new infinitives. In this they will also wake up to the fact that though we have certain obligations we do have the right to opt out if we so choose. That is a degree of control that underpins the real point of leaving the EU.

Brexit is not petty griping over cucumber standards or railway platforms. It is a means to address a profound change in the way government now works. It used to be that governments would devise their own laws and technical standards in conjunction with domestic technical bodies. This is no longer the case. There is collaboration at the global level to bring about a global rules based trading system governing everything from cucumber standards to major banking rules and all points between.

As much as the EU is a recipient of these global rules, so is everyone else. Governments of all sizes are law takers, not law makers. That changes the very nature of politics whereby politicians are not legislators, rather they are goalkeepers to protect us from bad and damaging rules. This is a task for which the EU has proven inadequate - not least when the EU is driven by supranational ideology rather than the common good.

Many have remarked that Brexit throws the entire system into chaos - which is in their view a reason to fight Brexit. In my view it is all the more reason to do it. Much of the law we abide by was either settled decades ago or has been implemented by way of automatic instruments meaning that much passes without our politicians even being aware of them, nevermind having a coherent idea of their origin and function. By the end of the Brexit process we will find among the media and our political class that we have acquired an institutional memory of where laws come from and how they work. Something that has not been present in political discourse for some time.

In this the political discourse will have changed whereby we view the EU in the proper context as one of many global organisations where the nation state has become a contracting party in a global corporate ecosystem where global private regulators and corporate trade alliances have equal, if not greater status. Only when we are fully aware of what has transpired over the last decade or so can we rise to the challenge of mastering it and controlling it. For too long we have been a silent passenger in the process of globalisation with our goalkeepers leaving the net wide open.

The last thing Britain could do or would ever wish to do is to assume full control and replicate global rules and the notion that we should make all of our own laws is a quaint misconception but ultimately the reason I side with Brexiteers is because the right to say no is that "sovereignty" we need. Globalisation is changing and as emerging economies begin to take more of a role in shaping the agenda, not least with China beginning to make its own demands of the regulatory system, it is right that we have an adequate means of defence and it is necessary that we are full participant at all levels of global lawmaking. We cannot afford to let our horizons stop at Brussels.

It will take a while for the penny to drop and our Eurocentric commentariat have yet to comprehend the shift in the global dynamics of trade and rule-making, but as we begin to dismantle our relationship with the EU it will become clear that we still have the same battles to fight and that democratic deficit between the governors and the governed is as acute as ever. Having that awareness is worth whatever disruption that Brexit may bring. We cannot afford the luxury of delegating it to Brussels anymore. In this game it's either play or get played.

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