Saturday, 27 April 2019

Nu-kip: the same old ignorance


It's hard to look at the Brexit Party (Nu-kip) any differently to its predecessor. While the old vessel has been appropriated by the internet cranks the new one looks much the same as the old one. One that is hell bent on leaving the EU for its own sake with no real idea of destination. There is a giant empty space where a deliverable vision ought to be.

When put on the spot for any kind of details, any one of the new candidates will fall back on bluster and borderline jingoistic optimism but cannot identify a national purpose. They've (still) never really given it that much thought. The Ukippy case for leaving the EU is a litany of whinges (many only partly to do with the EU) but never have they been able to articulate what they would do instead.

This appears to be a consistent feature of British politics where you can always find someone willing to opine but not actually do any thinking. Consequently the justifications offered for leaving tend to be the tired old canards that largely have nothing to do with the UK's relationship with the EU. When it comes to the mechanics of leaving the EU the cupboard is completely bare.

This is where I wish we had a remotely competent media. I would love to see any one of them seriously cross examined. Were that to happen we would very rapidly see how far out of their depth they are. This is where they would copy the homework of the Tory right and the Brexit blob, citing free trade with the rest of the world. There exists a body of work designed to bolster the Brexiter argument but it all traces back to the same handful of usual suspects centred around the Institute of Economic Affairs and the ERG.

Those who depend on this derivative work to help them bluff their way through an interview have no real idea what any of it means and take it entirely on trust being that it comes from kosher sources within the Brexit blob. It's fine if they want to persuade themselves of something but at some point this tribal dogma hits the rocks of reality.

The central problem is they have never checked what they want to achieve against what is actually deliverable. This pits the deregulatory instincts of the libertarian right against the real world. The Tory view has it at regulation is an expensive overhead that excludes new players from markets. This is where it helps to have been a long time eurosceptic, knowing the origin story of this particular misapprehension.

This all goes back to the nineties when the wheels started seriously turning on installing the legal software of the single market. Most certainly it did place major investment obligations on business equipping and training for a new regulatory regime. Some did not survive. Moreover the UK implementation was swift and ruthless with a bureaucratic zeal that only the British could muster. This provided ample fodder for the tabloids to run their "crazy EU regulation" stories.

What was not understood at the time, and seldom explained, was that this process was the foundation of a Europe wide regulatory union which would in time massively enhance the export potential of British goods if they made the grade. Though there may have been good arguments for not embarking on such an enterprise, the fact is that we did.

Fast forward to today and we have mature regulatory systems governing everything from farm waste to intellectual property - lucrative markets which are now well established and forms the foundation of the current UK business model. Eurosceptics warned that this would lead to an irreversible process whereby critical economic decision making would drift toward Brussels. That much is no longer in dispute.

The problem being that what is done is not so easily undone - and though we could set a course for deregulation and divergence, we'd be looking at a disruptive and expensive process much like the nineties, only this time it would be an exercise in reducing export potential and adding an array of non tariff overheads to supply chains and services. The commercial utility of regulation has never been fully appreciated by eurosceptics nor its complexity and certainly not its role in reducing border formalities. This is why the leave camp have such a hard time recognising the need for a comprehensive solution to the Northern Ireland conundrum.

None of these issues are particularly difficult to understand, unless of course you are mired in ideological dogma and don't really understand the nature of the single market. It is oft assumed that goods crossing borders is entirely organic and happens largely without government intervention. Except that the intergovernmental process of harmonising standards is what makes it possible to do at a profit the world over.

Without understanding that regulation is the WD40 of cross border trade, the EU's approach to Article 50 talks will always seem alien. It is assumed that if both sides have the political will to open their frontiers to goods without checks then it is simply a matter of dismantling border facilities. Frictionless trade, however, is the product of market integration based on uniform rules. It does not happen by accident.

Over the last three years much of this has been discussed and understood in many corners of the debate and much written here is repetition. None of this, though, ever seems to permeate the Brexit bubble where the realities of modern trade have taken a long vacation. The Brexiters continue to insist that we take back control of our money. laws and borders, but still seem to think this is without consequence and that free and open trade to the extent they imagine is still within the realms of possibility.

Here we have Nu-kip's Claire Fox blethering about sovereignty while utterly failing to appreciate not only the European state of play but also the universe of global regulation and the interconnectedness upon which most modern commerce functions. This is the classic dilemma between sovereignty and free trade that has been central to trade discussion for nearly three decades. As much as it was irreconcilable thirty years ago, as global regulatory systems have matured much has escaped from the realms of politics and drifted into the hands of technocrats.

This would all be far easier to resolve if this drift toward technocracy had no intrinsic value but as it happens we find that business does not want to go through the pain of regulatory upheaval for diminished functionality especially when it leads to larger overheads. This is why anyone serious recognises the need for a comprehensive relationship with the EU.

Had these basic facts of life been acknowledge by the leave movement then these dilemmas would have been anticipated leading to a preferred destination that adequately balances the ambitions of Brexit with the realities. Having failed utterly to understand the issues, making impossible demands based on misapprehension and jingoistic self-delusion, the Brexiter blob have largely written themselves out of the script, while they jeer from the sidelines waving their issue illiterate "solutions" such as the Malthouse Compromise.

Essentially it has all been left for the adults in the room to provide the direction and substance where the UK government has tried and failed to reconcile the irreconcilable. When the undeliverable and unrealistic is taken off the table, taking into account the UK's self-imposed red lines, the deal on the table is pretty much the only thing left. Naturally Nu-kip throws a tantrum because reality intruded on their fantasies, calling it a betrayal of Brexit.

Having persuaded themselves that no deal is viable, continuing to work from a position of supreme ignorance they will use all at their disposal to push us over that cliff. The problem, though, is that none of these realities go away and one way or another there has to be formal arrangements between the UK and the EU and with the EU being the economic and trade superpower, it will call the shots.

Eventually the penny will drop. The Brexiters will not know what hit them. If we leave without a deal we are looking at a major hit to exports and a major humiliation a we sign virtually any deal to get our trade back on track. This is precisely where we did not want to be but is ultimately the destination for this enterprise when the Brexit blob have a strictly enforced policy of maintaining its own ignorance.

This is why this leaver is largely resigned to supporting May's deal. Suboptimal though it may be, it can be revisited down the line and it at least breaks us out of this present deadlock. That the deal has been mangled to this extent, placing obligations on the UK that Brexiters find unacceptable is ultimately the consequence of Brexiters failing to anticipate these events  - which they could have were they willing to face the facts.

Brexiters will say that the deal looks the way it does because we have an establishment that doesn't want to leave the EU. That may well be a factor, but ultimately this has been an exercise in damage limitation seeking to tick the Brexit boxes while doing whatever can be done to preserve our existing trade.

This may infuriate Brexiters but this is done in the absence of a credible vision and an alternative destination. Uncoupling from the single market is no small undertaking and something that should only be done where we can identify alternative mitigating avenues. Given the general rule of regulatory gravity the options are few and nothing in the Brexiter cupboard comes anywhere close to replacing a lucrative £270bn a year regulatory relationship.

The bluster and bluff of Farage and Co may well be sufficient to sweep the boards in euro-elections which are little more than an opinion poll on domestic politics but it is not a serious proposal for the future of a leading world economy.

It is right to say that the mandate of 2016 must be upheld but the Brexit blob are not the sole arbiters of what constitutes the One True Brexit and having little more than a ragbag of flimsy theories to go on, most of which they themselves did not originate, they have no right to be taken seriously. Not at any point have they constructively engaged in the process or done that which is necessary to deserve a place in the debate.

There are, of course, answers to these complex questions, many of them outlined on this blog, but often it means coming to terms with some uncomfortable truths about our predicament. Something the Brexit blob is unwilling to do. They've decided that Brexit is something they alone own, excluding alternative voices and choosing to remain ignorant. Since they control the Brexit narrative I find myself more a detractor than supporter, right about the time when the leave movement ought to be doing all it can to hang on to the slim mandfate it had. If Brexit is stolen from them, they alone must bear the responsibility.

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