Thursday, 4 July 2019

Brexit: failures at every turn


Outside of the continuity remain camp freak show, there are actually remainers who strongly dislike the EU for roughly the same reasons I do. They just don't see enough merit in Brexit to make it worthwhile. I now have some sympathy with that view but then I'm a now or never person - and this is really a matter of personal preference.

We can argue the toss over whether the EU is or will be a federal superstate, but what is not in dispute is its mission toward ever closer union, where the EU is developing into a serious global power, both in trade and politics. Its denizens frequently voice their desire to do more; to consolidate ongoing developments and enhance the powers and scope of the EU.

Notionally it needs another treaty to do that - and at this point they would struggle to ratify one. So they'll do it a bit at a time by stealth. Integration by stealth is the EU's modus operandi. It is in that grey area the EU operates, where powers of the nation state are gradually eroded one ECJ decision at a time with neither our politicians or our media having the first idea what is happening or why. And should be become aware of what is happening, our collective voice here in the UK counts for very little.

The thing about the EU, see, is that when something is done, it's very often irreversible. What's done is done. Even with Brexit we can be out of the Common Fisheries Policy but there is no undoing what was done to the UK fleet. Times have changed. And of course we could propose reform, but even minor tinkering takes years - and subject to horse trading between special interests and lobbyists. All behind closed doors.

The basic point here is that the more power the EU accumulates the less say electorates have over affairs in their own country. If a people cannot meaningfully influence the laws they live under then you cannot say you have a democracy. Moreover, effective government means having the ability to respond to unfolding problems in a timely fashion. We can secure peripheral EU reforms but very often it's too little and too late.

Personally, I don't want to be part of that. No doubt the EU will continue to progress and will continue to integrate and increasingly take the place of member states in the global arena. That's fine if members want that but my preference is for the UK to retain its presence as an independent entity capable of expressing its opinion without having to form up on the common EU position.

There are any number criticisms we can level at the EU. We can whinge about it til the cows come or we can do something about it. For decades now we have heard the "remain and reform" mantra, but tinkering around the edges does not change the fundamental nature of the project where "ever closer union" is the root command. The flow of power will always be away from the people and towards Brussels. Further to this, to truly reform the nature of the EU we would need a new treaty - which would never pass. The EU doesn't want to become something less than it is nor does it want to give any power back.

For many years our political class was content to kick the EU issue into the long grass, often downplaying its significance and talking about it as though it were a "trade bloc" rather than what it really is - a supreme government. They hoped the issue would go away but too many people feel too strongly about not being sucked deeper into this entity. It lacks democracy, it lacks accountability and for as long as our own establishment is complicit in the deception, it will never be trusted.

For right or wrong, Britain has decided that its place in the world is not as a member of the EU. Now we must move on and decide what our role is. But that is the problem with Brexit. Nobody can agree on a destination. The exit process, therefore, has become the measure by which voters judge Brexit rather than the entirely legitimate reasons for wanting to leave. It's one thing to make a decision on membership, but to embark upon such an enterprise with no destination in mind is a huge folly.

The reason there s no agreement is largely because our own politics lacks a sense of ambition and purpose, and with the EU having been the basis of our economic model, it's the path of least resistance where most of our thinking is done for us. Strategic decisions are no longer taken in Europe's capitals. Remainer MPs don't want the hassle or the disruption of Brexit and the problems created by Brexit are far beyond their limited abilities.

I have never fully been able to explain why our politics has atrophied so severely. The stock answer for leavers is that that we are simply out of practice in the art of statecraft because we are run by Brussels - which to an extent is true since we no longer manage our own external relations, having wound up many of our foreign interests and subsuming ourselves further into the EU apparatus. That, though, is not a completely satisfactory answer. It is a culmination of a number of societal factors with causes ranging from the evolution of media though to changes in the way we engage with politics.

It's interesting that many speak about the need for greater localism, and ideally as much should be done at the lowest level as possible, as it once was, but when it comes to putting their money where their mouth is, the public doesn't go for it. Some parish councils have transferred their functions to senior government simply because they can't find willing candidates. The job has no real power, no prestige and being that society is increasingly atomised by social media and virtually everyone having cars, the traditional model of a community hardly exists anymore. Especially when you consider how mass employment in manufacturing, mining and steel forging no longer dominate.

The EU is partly responsible for this disengagement in local politics in that government local and national doesn't listen - and couldn't act even if it wanted to. Consequently most people are in the habit of simply getting on with their insular lives, leaving the business of government to the technocrats and mandarins. Politics then dies a death. Meanwhile, Whitehall does its fair share of micromanagement.

With local politics all but destroyed the party system has lost a great deal of its vitality so just about any hapless biped willing to suck up for long enough can make the candidate shortlist with virtually no quality control. The consequences are clear for all to see. The worst crop of MPs in living memory who simply cannot cope with the job of MP being anything more than a glorified social worker. Now these miscreants are tasked with something a bit more involved than banning sugary drinks from being served with school dinners we have a bit of a problem.

What we needed to successfully manage this process was intellectually curious and properly informed politicians. Which brings us to the other part of the problem. The media. With so much media now agenda driven and seemingly no shame in outright lying, and even the most well intentioned hacks getting the basics wrong, decisions are made on the basis of propaganda, spin and recurrent error. If there ever was a solemn obligation to inform then it no longer exists and that function has largely been abandoned by the state broadcaster.

But then there's the ultimate problem. An equally ill-informed population. We leavers are told that we didn't know what we were voting for. I've never subscribed to that view. A demos is perfectly qualified enough to decide who they want governing them. It's a very simple constitutional matter. But insofar as sorting out the details of exit, most people have only a two dimensional comprehension of trade because it is inherently complicated.

Further to this, we can't expect this to improve. Me as full time blogger and politics nerd can find the space and the energy to absorb this kind of technical politics, but for those who head out on long commutes and do a day's work, there isn't the time or energy left to fully absorb what is happening or why. They have to take some things on trust - so they trust brands with prestige and pedigree. But those media brands are now appropriated by corporate concerns and abuse that trust. It is their intention to mislead. Neither side has the monopoly on this dishonourable conduct. It's universal.

That then raises more serious questions a to whether we really can have a functioning democracy or whether this free for all is the best we can hope for. As far as Brexit goes, though, with things are they are, there was never any possibility of getting it right. There were windows of opportunity but each were squandered by way of misinformation influencing the decision making. Misinformation lodged deep since long before the referendum.

In the end, that we are leaving without a deal is largely because there is no consensus on how to execute Brexit and the only viable paths have been closed down by propagandists on both sides. No deal is the path of least resistance that requires the least talent to accomplish - so instead of trying to get it right, politicians have set about finding justifications for a path they know to be a disaster. They know what they have to do, but they won't be re-elected if they do it.

The easiest answer is, they say, to remain - which prom a technical perspective is absolutely true. But to give up on Brexit and consequently giving up on self-rule, all the negative trends that brought us to this point in the first place continue unabated. We are then in a state of managed decline as we are subsumed into the morass of "Europe" and any hopes of ever evolving past this quasi-feudalism to become a democracy die a death.

No deal Brexit, though, now ensures the road to democracy and independence will be far longer than it ever needed to be - if we ever get there at all. We have made all the unforced errors and when a wave of administrative and technical problems hit, we will make many more. The absence of proper planning, a credible destination and a vision for Britain will leave us flailing while our politics descends further into chaos.

This is the ultimate consequence of a political system that has no feedback mechanism. Had there ever been real democracy, with the public involved in the decision making in respect of the EU (and much else), we would not be here. It is likely now that the damage will never be undone. All that we can do now is work toward ensuring they never get to do it to us again.

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