Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Negotiating the non-negotiable

People continue to assert that you cannot be a member of the single market without having freedom of movement. It is non-negotiable they say. Except of course that it is negotiable, has been negotiated and there is a clear methodology for doing it. There is a bit of a fudge involved but the EU is all about fudging things. This is what it does.

The EEA Agreement says we can invoke safeguard measures "if serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectorial or regional nature liable to persist are arising". That case can easily be made.

We are used to being told that Freedom of Movement is universally beneficial - usually by London dwellers who would have a panic attack should they find themselves on the outer side of the M25. We are told that that those who complain about freedom of movement are simply small town racists whose opinions can and should be disregarded.

But actually there is a disruptive element to it and for people who didn't want their lives and communities disrupted it is singularly unfair. What we find is that less fashionable small towns become crime ridden ghettos because of a glut of rented properties.

Part of this dynamic is Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO) which are supposed to be inspected and licensed and managed by councils. They don't do it. Consequently, even if gang labourers were paid minimum wage (yea right), local workers still cannot compete because immigrants can massively undercut on expenses by way of overcrowding HMOs. 

The Landlords Association says "Councils are dreadful at prosecuting rogue landlords. The prosecution rate in 2012 was less than 500 out of 1.5m landlords."Councils often won't do anything about it because if they evict they have a statutory obligation to house them, adding to an already acute problem. The overcrowding and consequent crime it brings is what generates a great deal of resentment".

As ever we can blame domestic administration for their reluctance to uphold certain rules but even good councils are finding they cannot stay on top of what is happening - highlighted by the fact that many of the Grenfell victims were illegal sublets.

Arguably this could all be remedied by building more houses but if we do, for as long as the obligation to re-house those we evict exists we will simply create a further pull factor which will worsen the behaviour of tenants in order to get to the top of the list. There are enough loopholes to exploit.

As much as this qualifies as a regional issue that is liable to persist you can take it one further and say that public tolerance is at its limit and the mood is at "boiling point". That's your societal difficulties right there.

We are told though, that the EU will not permit the UK to become part of EEA/Efta if we intend to act in bad faith and invoke Article 112. This is on the assumption that the EU is not interested in compromise and that the UK has no leverage in this matter.

This is entirely a matter of how we sell it. There is every reason to believe that the EU is not in a hurry to create UK specific institutions to service any future relationship, but if the EU puts a block on EEA membership for the sole reason of upholding one principle, one which it has already fudged for other members, we are then forced to seek a bespoke agreement, one which will chew up EU runtime and extend uncertainty for both parties for some time to come.

There are those who continue to assert that the EU will push us all the way out with no concessions but cannot venture a single reason why the EU would seek to block an entirely workable avenue with a framework where an appropriate offset could be exacted by mutual agreement. We could be entirely up front about our intentions to use Article 112 and this need not be a showdown.

As notes, if we go about this from a different angle, approaching it with some clarity of vision - and one that fits with the spirit of European cooperation then there is an opportunity to find an equitable settlement that everybody can live with. To treat this entirely as a procedural process would be to miss an opportunity for wider European reform.

This though is, for the moment, largely academic. It still looks like the government is hell bent on reinventing the wheel - and in so doing lands us with the onerous task of imagining what a bespoke agreement would look like. Eventually it will dawn in the government that we need to remain a part of the single market. It's just a question of whether we go the long way around to get there and how much we will pay to uphold the delusion that "Brexit means Brexit". Those who continue to insist the Liechtenstein solution cannot be applied are adding to that bill.

We should note, however, that this is not a problem of our own making. British EU citizens have for some time voiced their opposition to unlimited EU freedom of movement. When Mr Cameron went to Brussels to resolve this matter he was rebuked, as were the British public. The principle mattered more than obtaining public consent. EU inflexibility and its contempt for democracy combined with the hubris of our rulers points further to the necessity to leave. Intransigence will likely harm Britain - but that is a consequence of ideological blackmail. Such exposes the lie that the EU was ever a collaborative democratic venture. 

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