Sunday, 11 November 2018

Remaining would bring about the end of tolerance


It is difficult to discern what sort of deal is emerging with the EU. Having painted herself into a corner Mrs May now faces the impossible task of appeasing all the disparate camps in the UK while coming up with something acceptable to the EU. Brussels is not making this any easier. She has one road available to her but she won't take it so now we simply wait for it all to fall apart. Those of us still making the case for the EEA are wasting our time.

For some time now it has been futile trying to influence the process. The vitality of the Brexit debate has died and most now realise that the die is cast. How this ends nobody knows. It either seems like Mrs May will cave in to EU demands and only if it can scrape through the commons is there any chance of a withdrawal agreement. Alternatively we simply run out of time.

Since any form of compromise is likely to enrage the Brexit blob and the DUP, May will need the opposition to carry any deal through. Being that Labour is in a similar state of disarray and with MPs not fully understanding the consequences of voting any deal down, it may be that a deal of any nature can secure the assent of parliament. My gut feeling is that we will leave without a deal.

I will have mixed feelings about this. The intelligent thing to do is join Efta and stay in the EEA but that, for now, is very much off the table. Nick Boles saw to that. My second choice would be an FTA, which is certainly more in line with the mainstream of brexitism, but given the array of non tariff barriers we would be subject to it is likely to have roughly the same impact as no deal at all. If we are to take that hit then we might ask why we would agree to a deal that carves up the UK.

As to what happens if we do leave without a deal, much of the warnings describe what should happen in law when in becomes out and one turns to zero. The most obvious flashpoint being the EU frontier in Ireland. It will still be the case that neither side wants to put up any kind of barrier and that will be the first political discussion after the fact. Here the EU will be forced to bend its own rules because politically I don't see how it can do anything else.

By that point both sides will agree to some form of informal transitional period just to understand what needs to be done and how. Outside the confines of the Article 50 framework, and with the UK as a third country, both are free to be more pragmatic than at present. In short, it will be very bad but not as bad as some predict. It is at this point I start to ask if it could have been any other way. And the answer is probably not.

The essential problem is that when all the basics are settled politicians have the luxury of coasting. Politics for some years now has been on autopilot. They have just enough competence to react to a crisis but not enough to manage change - especially large changes thrust upon them. We have lost that institutional ability. Certainly where technical and market governance is concerned, our own politicians have very little input. The levers of power are not connected to anything. Brexit changes all of that.

What lies before us is a political reckoning. A long overdue democratic correction. Regime change if you prefer. And yes, it's going to be a bloody expensive and disagreeable thing. It is going to cost a fortune and take years to sort out. Why? Because politics as we know it is over. It it cannot be sustained. It is at the end of its useful life. So too is the economic order the EU has underpinned. For there to be a new order then there must necessarily be a period of disorder to weed out the nonperforming elements in both our economy and our politics.

The forces of remain are the forces of the status quo. There is low low they would not stoop to if allowed so as to stay in the EU. They would scrub out the 2016 referendum in a heartbeat, gloat about it and call it a victory for democracy. They would sweep it all under the carpet and pretend nothing happened - and then all the things they said we should do instead of leaving the EU... they will set about not doing them, returning to their usual corrupt and depraved habits.

So if, as a remainer, you are dreading what is to come, take some solace in the fact that they don't get to win this time. For sure, leaving and leaving with out a deal is going to be an ugly business, but it is at leas politically constructive. From there we can rebuild and reform. Were they to get their wish and defy the vote they would unleash an ugliness not seen in the UK in living memory.

Remainers do like to preen about Britain's projected self image of being a liberal and tolerant country. As do we all. But it is liberal because we are tolerant. Brexit is a test of that tolerance. Those who voted to leave expect and demand that we leave the EU. Nothing more, nothing less. After that we come together to work out what next. If, though, that basic instruction is disregarded then tolerance will evaporate.

MPs are not presently held in the highest esteem. Rightly so in my view. They wail about discourteous language and uncivil conduct, but it is their ignorance, hubris and mendacity which invites it. They are the architects of their own misery. What one can say with near certainty is that without the tolerance we enjoy now, uncivil debate will be the very least of their problems.

For a long time now there have been millions of people shut out of our so-called democracy, left voiceless by their political parties and denied a say in a vital constitutional issue. We waited twenty years to have a say and we had to fight every step of the way to get it. Now that our voices have finally been heard, if the reply is that our voice will not matter, will not be heeded under any circumstances, then all bets are off. Britain becomes a far more hostile place.

Voters will generally conduct themselves as asked if the basic social contract it upheld. Those things we do not do and those things we do not say are not done and not said for the sake of keeping the peace. Rip up that social contract then the unsayable becomes sayable, the unthinkable becomes worthy of consideration. This is not a cat we want to let out of the bag because the cat will then uncork a genie who will open a pandora's box.

The surest way for everything we value to be destroyed is for a constitutional vote to be ignored. Trade deals can be rebuilt, so too can relations with the EU and Europe. Economies can recover, remodel, rebound and eventually thrive. What is not so easily repaired is the social contract. As much as the EU is not viewed as a legitimate government, any future domestic government would struggle to govern by consent especially when doing the bidding of Brussels.

Those pushing for a second vote take us for fools. They dress up their motives in sophistry and obfuscation and they can even justify it to themselves. The motive, though, is afar from honourable, and even those arguments that scan still cannot conceal the fundamental dishonesty at work. It is as transparent as glass.

The legacy remain movement has poured millions and countless hours into delegitimising the 2016 vote. They have hyped to the hypnotic properties of internet adverts, overblown financial irregularities (despite remain having spent more) and pointed the finger at Russia. Anything but address their own shortcomings. But at the end of the day, 52% of us, of our own volition voted in good faith.

By a series of connivances remain could engineer another vote. They could even win it, but not by a margin that puts the issue to bed. The precedent would be an interesting one - showing how keen remainers are on EU referendums when they produce a vote they like - but it would be years or perhaps never before we were invited to have a say again. That there tells you everything you need to know about the legitimacy of our relationship with the EU.

One way or another this issue needs to be settled because it has festered for decades and will likely fester a good while longer if we do not act now. Eventually there will come an equilibrium in our relationship with the EU in terms of trade and harmonisation. It won't suit suit the extremes of either end of the debate but at least it will enjoy the legitimacy EU rule has not. That is the basis for the longevity of our future settlement. Should we remain in the EU this question goes unresolved. Any certainty won by deception and betrayal is temporary at best.

Democracy is in part a continuous battle of ideas. It behaves the same way markets do. Artificial distortions can moderate and mediate. But they also prevent market corrections. The longer distortions remain in place the more violent and unstable the correction. Politics is much the same. Deny the people a voice for long enough and eventually it will explode in your face. Brexit it the safety valve. If that voice cannot find expression through the vote then it will find another way. And then the politicians have to re-learn why we have votes in the first place.

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