Tuesday, 19 December 2017

No, you're not an expert on Brexit.


If there is one thing that winds me up about the Brexit debate is the procession of self-appointed Brexperts touting their wares as though they were entitled to dictate. The only time in recent memory I have had cause to agree with Michael Gove was when he said we are all sick of experts. If you're not, you certainly should be.

Some would have it that I am an "IT expert". After twenty years of developing compliance software you learn a thing or two. There are a number of fields I have a near total grasp of, but the field of IT extends into network and internet security, high and low level programming, SQL and non-SQL databases, web services, encryption, bots, blockchain - and several competing platforms to do essentially the same thing.

In a lifetime I could never hope to master all of it and in some cases would, rightly, never be allowed anywhere near it. I can produce a passable website from scratch but how the internet actually works, to me is "here be dragons".

The same applies to Brexit. I have some emergent expertise in some fields but I would never dare venture into the realms of the financial sector or human rights law. And when it comes to immigration I am far more interested in the views of someone actually living at the leading edge of it - rather than an upper middle class ultra-white Waitrose liberal whose only real exposure to immigration is the similarly privileged people they went to university with.

Then when it comes to trade, it sucks in everything from tariffs and all those areas only VAT accountants understand, right through to anti-counterfeiting measures best known by port officials and food safety inspectors. There is simply no way to know it all and if you only have a functioning idea of what it is you don't know then you are doing quite well.

We should also note that trade is multidisciplinary wherein the modern a trade law wonk is sometimes less useful than a top veterinary official. Of the many types of trade agreement there are multiple configurations, some of which couldn't be less to do with tariffs. Establishing standards for the auction of airport landing slots is just as political as a round of talks on coffee tariffs.

Just lately, as a thought exercise, I have started thinking about trade strategy as though tariffs did not exist, looking at all the different means by which countries and blocs can bring about protectionist barriers. Even with regulatory harmonisation or mutual standards (as the EU demonstrates) there are still loopholes and workarounds. Thus, I conclude that there will be a need for multilateral trade negotiations for as long as goods and services cross borders.

We live in a world where trade and strategic alliances are always shifting, and we are moving beyond the geographic. The power plays are now between the major global public and private regulators and corporates and in some areas it is clear we are evolving into a state of global oligarchy where even the EU is a passenger. In a world of distributed technocracy localised sovereignty remains the best form of defence.

Though we see obvious advantages in taking on the likes of Google collectively, when blocs like the EU and entities like the WTO are themselves a nest of corporate lobbying, the nation state is still the only effective arena for democratic politics. Economists may well be able to calculate the best means of stimulating GDP but that says nothing of how we define ourselves, our borders and the values we uphold. 

There is also another good reason to dispense with experts. There seems to be a quest to seek out a perfect answer to a complex question. But there is no perfect answer because you have to hold this Brexit crystal up to the light and see the many reflections it casts. It is entirely a matter of perspective and it extends beyond the realms of economics and into the domain of identity, culture, heritage, class and a myriad of rational and irrational concerns, all of which have equal standing. 

So diverse are the views that there is only really one way to settle it. Democracy. Imperfect though it may be, it is at least fair. I have my my voice, as you have yours. Of my own volition I choose to be more informed than most, and I use the tools available to me to amplify my voice. If, however, what is won in democracy is overturned by those who profess to expertise then we have indeed turned a dark corner. One in which the interests of commerce trample on the wishes of electorates. For that reason I continue the fight to leave the EU. 

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