Monday, 1 May 2017

Why are we reinventing the wheel?

Mexico is not part of a European regional anti-counterfeiting operation. Canada does not have to manage its airspace in cooperation with the EU. South Korea does not share a border with us. There is not real call for heavily integrated customs. America barely needs to trade with Europe. Britain though is twenty miles off the coast of Europe. Dover is closer to Calais than Bristol is to Cardiff. Britain is dependent on imports for food. Much of that comes from or through Europe. How can it possibly escape Brexiteers that the UK needs a comprehensive relationship with the EU?

So what do we want? Obviously we want close cooperation in countering terrorism so we want information sharing between security agencies. We want to stop potentially lethal medicines being sold on our markets so we need a Europe wide system of testing and approvals. We also want to be able to sell our medicines so it makes sense to be part of that. We also want to be able to fly anywhere in Europe at low cost. We want that to be safe and well organised. So it stands to reason that we would want extensive cooperation there.

We also share a sea border with Europe. Nobody wants to see it fished into oblivion so even if we leave the CFP we want some kind of mutually acceptable convention. We also want roads clear of queues so we do want customs cooperation. We don't want to hang around in airports so we do want some sort of easy travel. We also want to be sure that we control outbreaks of diseases so we would want some kind of Europe wide data sharing and disease control system.

Folks, I could do this all day. The list goes on and on. It makes perfect sense to have close cooperation with our neighbours and allies. Obviously that is going to cost money so we need some sort of framework for that. And then there will be times when we don't agree so there will need to be some sort of arbitration system. And then we want a degree of knowledge sharing. We want the best research and development and where possible pool our resources to make that process better.

All in all there is every advantage in not replicating absolutely every function of government and where we use pretty much the same things, there is no value in have many different standards. So when you think about it whatever we get from Brexit, it is going to have to be more than a "trade deal". In fact, I've almost made a case for remaining in the EU here. Almost.

Y'see, I am entirely happy with cooperating on all of the above. I can't really see any reason why we wouldn't or shouldn't. What I have never understood though is why this level of cooperation must have a central authority and why we must homogenise when often there is no call. That's why I voted to leave. I have no real complaint with economic integration. I think that's a fact of life and it's good if governments facilitate it. What is clear to me now though is that its better if this is organic and sectors are able to choose the partners that produce the best results regardless of whether they are in the EU or not. In that regard the EU is a barrier to getting the best from globalisation.

But let's not go over that. We are probably never going to agree on that. More to the point we have settled that part of the argument. We voted to leave, Article 50 has been triggered and it doesn't look like anything can stop that now. The reason question is now how we leave and what we want to achieve. Here there is no point asking Brexiteers for any clarification because they never gave it any thought. Just leaving was their holy grail. If they wanted anything beyond that they would have formed a party with a credible agenda and a Brexit plan. They didn't do that. They just had a shouty clan of bigots ranting about muslims. It's a shame really because if they'd taken an interest in how things work they could have helped us out of this pickle.

No use crying over spilt milk though. Since they have vacated the field and they have crawled back under the rock they came from, I guess it's for you and me to argue for what we want. For me, I am satisfied that Brexit will end the political integration aspect of the EU and that to an extent we will be able to innovate with a few policies that are long overdue an overhaul. There's a few things wrong. During the referendum I was told by remainers about all those workers rights we get from the EU. But it does seem to me that the more rights go into law the fewer I have in practice. I don't think that link is accidental.

But again, we probably won't agree on that. At least now though there is the possibility of changing a few things. Trouble is, the more immediate question is what we want to keep the same. I'm no lover of the EU but it ain't all bad. More to the point, whether I like the EU or not, it is our nearest neighbour, it is the regional legal superpower and it is an entity with which we must deal. The question is what does that look like?

Our PM has spoken of a deep and ambitious relationship with the EU. Clearly that will have to be more than just a deal on getting lorries through the ports. It will have to be a system and it will have to be one based on mutual consent. It will also have to be one based on compromise where we recognise that "independence" doe not mean isolation and that we do not exist in a bubble where the actions of our neighbour have no influence on us.

Devising such a system from scratch is very much a time consuming and expensive business. That's a problem because time is something we don't have. More to the point, much of what we want is what we already have. So wouldn't it be an idea not to mess with it?

There's also the point that Mrs May is not actually suggesting anything new. There is nothing original about about a deep and comprehensive bilateral system covering all of these areas. It is a free trade deal with all the trimmings. There are even ways to opt out of the bits you don't want, including freedom of movement, despite what the media insists on saying. It's called the European Economic Area. So if it exists already, why are we bothering starting from scratch?

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