Sunday, 26 August 2018

Poisonous propaganda from the Observer


Today The Observer repeats a singularly poisonous piece of remainer rhetoric.
The reality is that the Brexiter fantasy of regaining control harks back to a time when Britannia ruled the waves. There’s no such thing as 19th-century-style national sovereignty in an interconnected world where economic success is built on international trade. The future lies in more, not less, intergovernmental co-operation and the European Union – for all its faults – is the most functional model of that. The reality is that the UK is giving up membership of the world’s most significant trading bloc – in which it has exerted real influence for a decade – in exchange for having its terms of trade dictated by other governments.
Sovereignty is one of those words that keeps popping up. It's a tough one to call in that there are clear examples of national sovereignty overriding citizen sovereignty, and national sovereignty can often be a barrier to enjoying greater freedoms through increased cooperation and trade. Thus from the outset it is necessary to recognise there can be no absolute sentiment on the notion of sovereignty.

A great deal of the regulation does not involve sacrificing one party's interest for the benefit of another. When you are driving south and I am driving north, it is in the interests of both of us that we comply with a convention about sticking to the left hand side of the road. A direct analogy to global law is the regulation of satellite orbits by the International Telecommunications Union. No one wants to put up a satellite that will bump into another one.

It is, of course, never that simple in that as regulation becomes more complex, there are always winners and losers, thus the process must be transparent and fair and where possible, democratic. This is where I have always found the EU wanting. But then scrutiny is not always possible.

I have been an advocate of greater parliamentary scrutiny on treaties in the past, but in practice a treaty in its final form is the only document that can be pratically scrutinised. Consequently a large deliberative assembly can only ever add reservations and exceptions which may not be agreed, and the whole process can then stall depending on the veracity of parliaments objections - leading to many years of delay and reduced growth while banking up requirements for new agreements as industries grow and develop. That points to the necessity for a better consultative process.

As this blog continues to argue democracy is more than just periodic voting rituals and where trade is concerned it requires much more civil society involvement and more input from stakeholders - consumers especially. The outsourcing of trade, though, tends to shift trade debate into the technocratic realm where the public are barely aware of the processes and what is being negotiated in their name. This is also why our own MPs are trade illiterate. Brexit is already restoring trade debate to the UK. Putting the process back where we can see it.

The Observer has it that the future lies in more, not less, intergovernmental co-operation, which is absolutely true, as per the illustration above. Intergovernmental cooperation on standards and trade governance is at the centre of world trade affairs. There is no reason, though, why we should not have the ability to refuse rules.

More or less every binding agreement results in limits to how sovereignty is wielded. What matters is who is making the decisions and in what circumstances. By leaving the EU we repatriate the decision making over what we adopt. Presently much of our EU technical governance arrives on the UK statute book via statutory instruments and the process is automatic.

We must also note that the EU is supranationalism not intergovernmentalism and very often on technical matters we are overruled without a means to appeal by the ECJ. Moving out of the EU means the UK retakes its own vote and regains the right of initiative on all of the international bodies from which the EU draws many of its own regulations. A quick glance at the EU-Japan FTA shows the influence of these bodies. 


But then pragmatic Brexiters are not going to go to the barricades over common vehicle safety and vegetable marketing standards. Trade governance is tolerable, but we reject utterly the notion that any supranational organisation should have supremacy over justice, labour rights and home affairs. Arguably we may lose some sovereignty in adopting EU food safety rules (most of which are based on best practice) but we regain it in areas of domestic governance, retaking powers that should never have been given away.  

The Observer asserts that the UK will have its terms of trade dictated by other governments. Nowhere does it say parliament must ratify a deal, and in fact various noisemakers are already making themselves heard over "hormone beef" and "chlorinated chicken". Parliament will assert itself and the UK industry lobby will also make its thoughts known. 

Decision making over trade will reside in the UK and parliament will be the supreme authority in trade matters. Moreover, nearly all modern trade agreements seek out fair trade which is why they have safeguard measures and continued communication through the supporting institution of the agreement. Outside the EU we are free to trigger safeguard measures unilaterally.

The Observer is right to note that a no deal scenario is considerably worse than a negotiated trade relationship, but the tiresome "rule taker" mythology oversimplifies the issue. Global efforts on trade harmonisation will require a number of compromises in the future and there are indeed limitations to sovereignty but that is a different question to being a subordinate of a supreme government with direct authority to overrule.

In matters of trade the EU is a single customs entity, replacing member states in world affairs, and very often speaking for them without member state consultation. This is also true of foreign policy where increasingly the EU pushes its own expansionist agenda. Brexit is about reasserting the UK as a distinct entity. It may not enjoy the same power, but we trade power for sovereignty and control over our own affairs without supranational interference.

Having left the EU we will be faced with some uncomfortable dilemmas and trade-offs and in some cases none of the options will be optimal. That applies to all mid ranking powers. It is, though, not strictly an economic question and one of who and what we allow into the country. That is popular sovereignty and most Brtexiters understand it, and in the age of hyper-globalisation, more necessary than ever. 

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