Thursday, 17 January 2019

A question for Paul Embery


Readers of this blog will know have I little time for the bubble Brexiters. Very often I'm asked if there are any Brexiters in the public eye that I do respect. The answer is no. There is a groupthink in full effect and it is impenetrable. I do, however, keep tabs on other independent campaigners and I have a lot of time for Paul Embery, a Firefighter and Labour trade union official. The reason I'm making this post a personal address is because I'd like a reply from someone who isn't a moron. And Paul isn't.

Last night he tweeted:
Question Time audience in Derby - a working-class, Labour city - just cheered the prospect of 'no deal' to the rafters. Labour is playing with fire. It may never recover the support of people like these if it lets them down.
Now I am reasonably certain that nobody in that room has heard of Rules of Origin. If they have then I am absolutely certain that none of them know how the system works because most of the trade wonks I know only sort of get it. Basically unless the sum total of a product can be proved to be comprised of between 40 and 60 percent domestic origin then it does not qualify for the tariff exemption.

I pick that example because it's the lead talking point in wonk land. Being that Derby is home to Rolls Royce and Toyota this matters to them. Moreover, if there's no deal then there are any number of conformity and certification issues and even if RR and Toyota can get around them, it may not be so easy for the hundreds of suppliers which tend to be mid ranking SMEs. 

As Paul probably knows, most families are only one paycheque from oblivion. Worst case scenario, no deal will simply force these factories to relocate. More optimistically, there is still a very real possibility of a suspension of production. That's seriously bad news for contractors.

Much like where I live, in the shadow of Airbus in Filton, these factories not only sustain the high paying jobs directly associated with them, they also sustain the secondary industries and the communities. This could do to Derby what the closure of mines did to a number of northern towns, where evn to this day the name Thatcher is akin with Satan himself.

Even if we assume the best case scenario, it can only take a couple of months without work for families to crack under the pressure. A missed mortgage payment and a lapsed credit card is all it takes.

If you take the view that Labour is supposed to be the champion of the working class, if these events transpire (and my analysis rather indicates that they will), how can they roll over and allow what is, at its core, a Tory ultra liberal free trade agenda whose chief advocate (Patrick Minford) believes will necessarily lead to losing these industries and doesn't even view it as a bad thing?

I feel it is somewhat dishonest to take the "voter knows best" view here. Certainly the constitutional question of whether we should leave can only be answered by a public vote, but the question of how we leave entails a myriad of questions pertaining to regulatory and customs mechanisms that most are barely even aware of. Were it that the good people of Derby were fully informed of what is almost certain to transpire, would they still be salivating for a no deal Brexit?  

We can take the view that the media has been saturated with no deal warnings and so the public are most certainly aware that risk is involved, but much of this has been misreported and trivialised by a media with no obligation to inform, while the pro-Brexit Tory apparatus has shamefully scraped the barrel for any source they can find to downplay the concerns of genuine sector experts and practitioners.

This is not something that is subject to opinion. The EU's own Notices to Stakeholders outline the official legal position of the EU and there is a more explicit press release explaining how all of the official controls will come into play in the event of no deal. This cannot be dismissed or downplayed. It is a primary source. Should we trust that or the opinion of a port boss or leave backing CEO?

In spirit, I absolutely understand the impulse to give Brussels the two-fingered salute but my five years of writing about trade and regulatory systems in depth leads me to the conclusion that we must still have a deal. As a left winger, does it not concern you that you are singing from the same hymn sheet as Jacob Rees-Mogg and John Redwood and that this agenda's only advocate in the Labour party is Kate Hoey, who is, to be frank, thick as a butcher's turd?

I'm down with the ideals of democracy and sovereignty as far as it goes but this is an imperfect world where the very nature of trade is binding agreements and coordinated cooperation that necessarily has an impact of the exercise of sovereignty. That is the world as we find it, and only backward kleptocracies operate on WTO terms alone. There is no example of two developed nations trading without formal relations.

Does the leave vote really trump the modern realities of international trade? Can we really so casually cast aside all of the norms of international relations? Do we really wish to dispense with the deep cooperation we have with the EU that sustains so many high value industries? If such can be avoided by concluding a withdrawal agreement, is it not a massive failure of politics and government to allow such needless self-harm?

Theresa May's deal is imperfect. It carries a great deal more obligations than I would prefer. It does, however, end freedom of movement and it does leave the single market by way of leaving the EEA. At the very least it starts the ball rolling on what was always going to be a long exit process. Are its inadequacies really so intolerable that we must risk the livelihoods of ordinary people when it is entirely avoidable? 

In a world where absolute sovereignty is a chimera, and leaving without a deal more than likely does expose us to many of the forces of globalisation that contributed to the leave vote in the first place, do we not have an obligation to demand this process be taken more seriously? Can we afford to be so cavalier? 

The assertion that nobody voted to be poorer is one that carries little weight for me. Politicians do not have the right to second guess us in respect of who governs us, but is it not foolish to cheer on the one option that absolutely guarantees we will be poorer? As someone who lost a great deal when Airbus made cutbacks, that is not a fate I would wish on anyone.  

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