Saturday, 10 June 2017

Brexit: don't tell me what I voted for

Concerning Brexit, there are a number of leave inclined groups and pundits wishing to take ownership of the entire process by telling us what we did and didn't vote for. Speaking as someone very closely involved in the pre-referendum planning debate, I would point out that both Vote Leave and Leave.EU fiercely resisted having any kind of plan.

Had they set out any kind of vision they would have some leverage over the direction right about now but the fact is the only "promise", that of the £350m is one they now disavow and consequently their ownership of the issue stands only on the decision to leave. They have no right to tell anyone what we voted for and they do not own the debate as to how we leave.

Though some senior voices within Vote Leave categorically stated that we would leave the single market, others were less emphatic. One should not however, that Vote Leave was appointed not elected and famously ignored all the grassroots groups including CIB, Ukip and TLA. They were speaking entirely for themselves, falling in behind Dominic Cummings, who would struggle to offer a working definition of the single market.

The closest Vote Leave came to offering a plan of any kind was an assertion that we could simply repeal the European Communities Act. This was never a realistic proposition and we have already departed from that by way of invoking Article 50.

As to the assertion that remaining in the single market is not leaving the EU, this is a zombie argument used by liars. The single market as it stands now is a collaborative venture between the EU and Efta states - and Norway etc only adopt about one in five EU rules by way of a system of co-determination - laws which we will likely have to adopt even if we left the single market - but without any means of disputing council decisions. Not least since many of them are rooted in global conventions.

I won't go into the gory details because I will revisit these issues in the near future. The point of this post is simply to say that leavers do not get to call the shots on how we depart. They were given that opportunity over a year ago and declined the opportunity. It is therefore up to all of us to debate. Democracy is a continuum and though the decision to leave may well be sacrosanct the mode of departure still hangs in the balance and there is everything to play for.

You probably already know my views on this. There is no economic gain or utility in terms of sovereignty from leaving the single market. The main objective and the the single most important one is that we end political union with the EU and an off the shelf treaty is the fastest and safest path to that outcome. The rest can be sorted out later and revisited by way of EEA review.

There is no scenario where we don't have to make compromises and fetishising sovereignty for its own sake is pointless since absolute sovereignty no longer exists unless you're a regulatory superpower like China or the USA. Diverging from the existing regime brings us no efficiencies and comes at the cost of European trade. That was a tough pill to swallow for me being a long standing critic of EU regulation - but that is the reality of it nonetheless.

I would be more inclined to take the risk of leaving the single market if there were a plan on the table or a realistic alternative but there isn't. Our entire polity has only a very superficial grasp of international trade and there are no credible plans in circulation that could compensate for a substantial loss of European trade.

The trade benefits from Brexit only come from cumulative minor increments over many years. There are no "bumper trade deals" waiting in the wings and the only people salivating at the thought of the UK leaving the single market are those with ambitions of asset stripping the UK. Staying in the single market still means we can make our own deals so I see no good reason to self-harm. If leavers wanted it some other way they should have exploited the opportunity when they had it.

As it stands I have yet to identify a single mainstream leave politician with even the remotest grasp of how trade works in the real world. Of the trade negotiators I do know, none of them thinks we would get a better deal than the EEA and if we want to avoid a major long term recession even a bespoke deal would have to replicate 90% of EEA functionality. We could do a lot of damage trying to reinvent the wheel, adding to the uncertainty to only achieve what we could have had from the outset. This is the ultimate folly of the Tory approach and this is what cost them my vote - and I am not alone in that.

In that regard do not let anyone tell you the debate is settled or let them interpret the result of the election for you. The question of how we leave has always been open ended and there is every reason to get involved. Plenty of people want to close down the debate by telling lies. The usual suspects. I'm not standing for it and this ain't over til it's over. The fight over Britain's destiny did not end in June last year. The referendum was only the beginning and hardline leavers do not own this debate.

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