Friday, 9 December 2016
Brexit Britain has a new purpose
The decision to leave the EU in broader terms is just a decision to take the country in another direction. Prior to this the UK was committed to further political and economic integration. This requires the surrender of considerable powers over significant areas of policy and requires further relinquishment as the process matures. The flow of power is only ever in the direction of Brussels and at a certain point becomes irreversible.
As noted earlier, much of what we now call the single market will not be very easily undone if ever it is. The Brexiteers may well wish to leave the single market, and they may confound my expectations and pull it off, but in place of any such single market agreement we will have an extensive bundle of agreements maintaining many of the integrated systems which make up the basis of the single market.
So the question of Brexit is whether it is strategically wise to invest all effort in EU integration when there are bigger wins to be had by extending that exact same degree of integration to third countries. Do we have sufficient power to bring that about when we have surrendered powers over our own trade policy? Quite obviously the answer is no.
We must also ask whether the continued transfer of power is in the national interest and if there are sufficient democratic checks and balances to avert the abuse of such power. When it comes to trade and to an extent foreign policy, the Commission is a law unto itself, seldom ever called to account by the parliament and when dealing with those under the radar issues that the Council would never take on, it has near unlimited powers by way of having so little scrutiny.
There is also the question of whether that power is wielded in the common good. For decades the EU has been making grubby little deals and bullies its way around Africa for short term gains taking no account of the consequences - one of which has been to contribute significantly to the global migration crisis. The follow on from that is that Greece bares the brunt of it while thousands upon thousands continue to die in the process.
If you are a remainer you might argue that the surrender of powers has been good for the UK, and to some extent, you might even persuade me that it has. But that is a question in the past tense. The question we face is one of the future. To answer that question we need to look at where we are now.
It looks like CETA will not make it through the European Parliament. It looks like TTIP is probably dead in the water. It looks like the EU has reached a high water mark and it very much looks like it is incapable of adequately responding to problems, many of which it has a hand in creating. And so if the EU cannot respond, we must.
We have heard much about taking the power back from Brussels, but as yet we have heard little as to what we intend to do with it. That is the question most pertinent to this entire debate. The question of whether we continue to dismantle the UK as an independent state is now resolved. Now we need to have a debate about our place in the world and where we can usefully contribute.
Firstly we need to get over the idea that we are a power in our own right. Nothing we seek to accomplish will happen without first finding a consensus. Some have suggested a CANZUK alliance without actually asking for a moment if those nations would even be interested in any such destination. It seems more like wishful thinking than a real world initiative. It sounds superficially appealing but we have to ask what it would produce over and above what we already achieve and how that is relevant to the world as we find it.
An alliance must be an answer to a problem. The EU in its own plodding way was an answer, albeit the wrong one, to the question of how we rebuilt Europe after the war. Efta is mooted as a safe means of leaving it. So if we are to seek out new alliances we need to ask what it would be for. Further to this we need to ask if ossified alliances are even the way forward now. We have just left one with our closest neighbours so why create another?
Arguably we are better off navigating the existing frameworks of global governance, keeping all of our options open, forming ad hoc, task specific alliances for particular outcomes. In that we need to look at the most pressing issues. At the top of that list is the global migration crisis which sees massive movements of people and threatens to destabilise Europe.
The EU approach has been to tighten up the borders, even paying some pretty foul specimens to do its bidding - to such an extent that Human Rights Watch has noticed. What is needed is more outward looking policy-making to tackle the push factors. In this it is encouraging to see talk of a Marshall Plan for Africa, very much a German initiative.
Germany now wants to transfer a similar plan to Africa, with a view to creating a conducive environment and opportunities for the African youth in particular, by making them stay and find meaningful employment at home rather than looking for work in Europe.
That is good as far as it goes. A Marshall Plan sounds incredibly ambitious, and conjures up images of a Berlin Airlift; a massive and impressive undertaking at short notice with particular strategic aims in mind. The problem is that by the time such an initiative is fed into the EU machine it becomes the property of heavily integrated Brussels NGOs, fed through the mill of the climate change industry and filtered through UN sustainable development goals. What comes out the end is more meagre tinkering, dripping with political correctness where much of the funding drains away to lobbyists and consultants.
Furthermore, what good is a sending out two fire trucks where one is hosing water and the other petrol? While the EU commission remains a rogue non state actor, undermining any such development goals we are pretty much pissing in to the wind.
That's where Britain could actually be useful as an independent state. While we must maintain a high level of cooperation with the EU, we must also act as a counterweight, building up opposition to the EU in global forums, centring on a much more ruthless commercial and development policy in the framework of effects based foreign policy. China sets the example. Why not follow?
That means major investment in African infrastructure, roads and ports especially, irrigation and agriculture systems and the supply of clean water. In 2016, disease and drought are a result of governance failures. We are a planet comprised of more than two thirds water yet Africa still suffers from famine and drought. Israel has proven that barren scrubland can be turned into sustainable agriculture. All it takes is infrastructure and good management.
In this, as a first world innovator the UK, despite the misgivings of remainer miserablists, is in a prime position to export expertise - in governance especially. The fact that the EU is a sprawling bureaucracy is in part a legacy UK contribution. At the other extreme we find little if any governance at all. That is something we can fix.
In this, we could go out into the provinces of Nigeria to set up agricultural systems but without a viable means to export goods there is very little point. Due to port delays, lack of refrigeration facilities and traffic congestion, shipments can spoil before they are even loaded onto ships. Bribery and mismanagement of customs paperwork can add considerable costs. Traffic jams in Lagos can stretch to twelve hours when all it would take is a managed system of traffic lights and the political will to enforce it.
We have thousands of engineering consultancy firms in the UK, geared to anything form aquaculture to nuclear power. To say that there aren't major opportunities for the UK is laughable. All we need is some joined up thinking, linking aid with trade policy and using our aid budget for lasting purposes rather than short sighted and short-termist humanitarianism and politically correct showboating.
The EU may well have good intentions in public, but is forever playing catch up and putting out brushfires unable to bring its might to bear. It lacks direction and coherence and through bureaucratic inertia, is unable to inject any energy into its aims. Britain, free of the petty restraints and internal squabbles can show leadership and start doing that which the EU can only talk about.
It could be that we gain some surprising allies in such an endeavour and we could well be the influence that stops the US turning inward. We won't know unless we try - but there is certainly no chance of that were we to remain in the EU - which will forever be a dysfunctional and incoherent mess.
If our leaders wake up to the potential of Brexit and break ranks with the EU political modus operandi, we stand a good chance of injecting some energy into trade. In the global forums it is not your market size that counts. It's what you can facilitate and what you bring to the table. In this, ideas are very much a currency. Others will match what we are prepared to invest. If we can show that we are serious about tackling once and for all the miserable conditions that drive the migration crisis then others will follow our lead - while the EU is still debating the required colour of the aid parcels and whether they are gender neutral.
It will take some doing to untangle our own foreign policy from the EU and changing the mindset within our own institutions will be like turning a supertanker, but if we can depart from the dismal dogma of the globalists then we have every reason to expect that Brexit will be transformative. Sooner or later it has to happen because we really cannot afford not to.