Sunday, 12 August 2018

The Brexiter disconnect

As this blog demonstrates I can ably articulate a case for leaving the EU. Or rather I can argue the case for sovereignty and democracy. That's the easy bit. Anyone can do that. If you want a generic expression of eurosceptic values there are plenty to choose from. I have occasionally read lucid arguments from Gisela Stuart and various contributors to the Daily Telegraph. Putting it into effect, though, is considerably more of a challenge. This is where I can very easily fall out with Brexiters.

The question of whether we should leave the EU is to my mind settled. We had a referendum where just over half the country thinks we should leave the EU and of those who voted remain, many of them think it would be better to be out of the EU but simply don't think we have what it takes to be an independent country. On present form they can be forgiven for thinking that.

The debate is now one of how we leave the EU where we have to confront certain realities. One such factor is that every post-Brexit decision we make has external consequences. We may be reclaiming the sovereignty to do something but the exercise of that sovereignty will cause the EU to react. Any measure we take to gain an unfair commercial advantage over the EU will result in retaliatory measures. Being that the EU is a superpower it can make life difficult for the UK.

Post-Brexit the EU will hold most of the cards. We have seen how the EU has managed to leverage incremental concessions from Switzerland in exchange for enhanced market access. It can use soft power or outright blackmail. Why? Because it can. Especially if the UK chooses to be confrontational.

All too often we hear Brexiters giddy with anticipation of a bonfire of regulation. Should we do this the EU has ways in which it can respond, not least by upping the rate of inspections on the borders. It can very easily thwart any commercial advantage we may get by cutting corners. This does not seem to factor in with Brexiter thinking. It is as though once we leave, the EU simply stops existing and we are free to exercise sovereignty in a vacuum.

Tory Brexiters especially now appear to reside in non-interconnected world where economic policy can be imposed unilaterally without regard to global context, where government can pick and choose which international laws and regulations it deigns to adhere to without losing global influence. There has been no debate as to the practical applications of sovereignty or indeed the limitations of it.

This is why we have to think carefully about our post-Brexit strategy and the future relationship we have with the EU. Technical cooperation will always mean a degree of compromised sovereignty. All binding agreements place limits on regulatory freedom and divergence will naturally result in less preferential access to the European market.

We could, therefore, mishandle Brexit in such a way where we could have a glorious restoration of national sovereignty only to find we cannot usefully wield it. It is at this point we have to look at the available models and examine their respective trade-offs. Here we find that none are especially appealing. 

A WTO Brexit severs all formal relations with the EU and throws our regulatory systems into chaos. A Canada style FTA does not satisfactorily address any of the regulatory concerns meaning our trade in goods is damaged considerably and we are frozen out of lucrative services markets from airlines to intellectual property. We therefore arrive at the conclusion the EEA is the only framework comprehensive enough to ensure we maintain a decent standard of living and minimise the economic turmoil. 

This option has proven unpopular with Brexiters because of a sovereignty fetish where they'd rather starve than have common standards on the marketing of aubergines. There is no reasoning with that. We're dealing with people who cannot and will not accept there are functional limits to sovereignty.

On a more philosophical level I have a great deal of sympathy with hardliners and the EEA is considerably more regulatory integration than I would like and the mechanisms concerning the adoption of rules seem to be stacked in favour of EU hegemony. It is far from an ideal solution but then there simply is no such thing as ideal in this equation. If you are outside the EU then you have to contend with the EU as your neighbouring superpower and power calls the shots. 

This is where I get supremely irritated with Brexiters. I can bash out an article excoriating the EU, pandering to all the classic Brexiter tropes and it will get three times the likes and shares on social media than one of my more technical posts. The rest of the time they don't want to know, they don't want their narratives disturbed and they don't want their fanciful ideas shot down. 

Even people I thought had been keeping abreast of the issues will occasionally surprise me by saying "The USA trades with the EU on WTO terms". It tells me I've been wasting my breath for the better part of two years. I then see them sharing something asinine and childish from Spiked Online or the Spectator - and then I lose the will to live. 

When it comes down to it, people prefer to stay in their comfort zone and they couldn't be less interested in the mechanics of Brexit. They will conform to whatever view their nearest opinion gatekeeper says and not at any point will they apply their intellect. They revert to O'Neillian witless prattle about "the elites" betraying democracy. The practical concerns and the potential threats and liabilities simply do not exist. 

Brexiters very often complain that Brexit is being betrayed yet they take no interest in shaping the debate or understanding the issues, very often preferring BrexitCentral/IEA disinformation to primary sources. They have rigged the game so that any nod to reality is a "betrayal" and any consequence on the horizon is simply "project fear". 

You would think that people who had campaigned for years to bring about what is essentially a revolution would take some interest in the outcomes but really all Brexiters seem to want to do is churn over the referendum narratives as provided by Matthew Goodwin. 

Further afflicting the debate is an inability to separate the issues from the personalities. For instance it is perfectly possible to hate the burka and still think Boris Johnson is a sociopath. You can be pro-Brexit and hate the boorish, boastful Brexiters. You can be pro-markets and still despise the ineptitude and corruption of the IEA. You can be pro-free trade and still think the crackpot theories of Patrick Minford are dangerous nonsense. You can have conservative values and still think Jacob Rees-Mogg is a two-faced lying worm. 

All to often though, people will choose to believe sources on the basis of their Brexit credentials despite not one of them being able to summon a single verifiable fact. One people have decided where their loyalties lie and who they trust, there is no persuading them of anything. Reason falls on deaf ears and if one is not adhering to Brexit scripture then you're a remoaner by default. 

Since the average Brexit punter would rather indulge in trivia and surrender the agenda to the politicians, taking their cues from the media, they are vulnerable to exploitation and essentially useful idiots for the disaster capitalists on the right of the Tory party. They will not see reason until the consequences are upon is. 

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