Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Brexit: A matter of priorities


The classic Brexiter narrative is that after our departure we are free to do as we please. Breaking away from the EU means politics is once again open to the battle of ideas. On the right we have free market free traders and on the left we have good old fashioned socialists.

The problem with Brexit, though, is that both camps are offering up an intellectually bankrupt prospectus. The right are obsessed with tinkering with tariffs with barely a foothold on what the term "free trade" means (if indeed it any longer means anything) while the left seem to think we'll be free to subside and prop up industry without international consequences.

Both are essentially economic arguments. And that's a problem since Brexit is not an economic proposition. Both factions have lost sight of Brexit's intellectual foundations. Such as they are.

Any serious analysis, taking into account the significance of European and global regulations and standards suggests that there simply isn't an economic argument for Brexit. Those things we would be free to do are not necessarily things we should do and if we did, we would find that they actually aren't very good ideas. We then encounter the "double coffin lid" where we find the restrictions imposed by the EU are not entirely dissimilar to the global frameworks from WTO to Basel2.

It actually takes the EU to remind us what the rationale for Brexit is. Today the Commission tweets "Since 2011, the EU enjoys enhanced observer status at the UN. In New York, the EU delegation @EUatUN coordinates with all EU countries to ensure they speak with one voice. It allows the EU to participate and present common positions at the UN’s general debate every September".

That's pretty much the whole of the argument right there. We are told the EU will never be a superstate but all the same it is still a supreme government and one that seeks to replace the member state in the international arena. The voice of member states is subordinate to the common position.

When you factor in the disparity in geopolitical outlooks even within the EU that can only mean that there are times when the national interest is subordinated by the EU common position, largely dictated by the bigger fish. In respect of that, when considering French colonial interests and German energy ambitions, it seems implausible that there could ever be a coherent common position without the UK or any other member being silenced on occasion.

And then of course if the EU is to have an international presence at the top tables it needs its high representatives - people such as Federica Mogherini who, so far as I can work out, is accountable to nobody. EU foreign and neighbourhood policy then takes precedence and our international concerns are a distant second. As much as this is true for the UN, it is also true of UNECE, Codex, WTO, ILO, IMO and many other key global bodies - especially in the domain of trade which is an exclusive EU competence.  

This is where remainers roll out the "clout" argument in that "pooling sovereignty" enhances our international power. They do not say, though, why the UK cannot act in ad hoc blocs and alliances according to the arena utilising its own considerable soft power. They can only think in terms of a fixed international alliance in all matters.

That said, I am the first to admit that Brexit does indeed reduce our global clout in terms of trade - quite substantially should we fail to secure a deal, but that clout is illusory when we find ourselves on the losing side of important arguments within the EU over what the common position is. So it comes down to a question of whether it is better to always have a voice and the ability to lead or whether it's best to play it safe accepting we are subordinate to the EU. 

If we follow the latter to its inevitable destination we find UK delegations disbanded entirely and replaced by the EU on everything from fishing subsidies to human rights abuses in the far east. Our consular services are shuttered and our official presence is no longer felt overseas. Then of course if there is an overarching foreign policy there is an overarching military policy since the latter is a tool of the former. British warships will be doing the bidding of Mogherini. British flags but EU armbands.

Our continued membership of the EU is a commitment to replace European states with an active political cabal playing its own games of empire. Britain will retain its flag, its monarchy, its national anthem and its red phone boxes but these will be mere relics of a former nation. The end of Britain as an independent sovereign country.

This I will never be reconciled to. It is why, at the end of the day, I will gladly pay virtually any price to leave the EU. It's not about saving £39bn or spending £350m on the NHS or deregulating or even subsidising British manufacturing. This is an existential question for the country - and when you look at the constitutional make up of the EU it's an existential question for European democracy.

Whatever baubles are up for grabs, be they pan-European health insurance, abolition of roaming charges or visa free travel, nothing dangled in front of me is worth the terrible cost of the EU. Our country is more than just an economic region. It stands for a particular set of values (though they be in flux) and if we wish to be a sovereign people capable of defending and exporting those values then we must at all times have a voice internationally.

Looking at what has been achieved through UNECE, the WTO and other major global bodies, it is clear that we can defend the environment and uphold labour standards and human rights through multilateral cooperation. Political subordination is neither necessary or desirable. Britain punches above its weight because we are willing to invest and because we keep our word and because we are a great country with massive cultural influence. We would be fools to turn our backs on that.

Of late Brexiters seem to have lost sight of this, instead getting worked up about the relatively trivial details of the withdrawal agreement, arguing the toss over inconsequential sums of money. They measure any deal against what they hope to achieve economically, losing sight of what's important. 

Whichever way Brexit goes we will remain closely aligned with the EU in matters of trade and we will find that breaking out of the EU's regulatory orbit is largely futile - with limited utility. What matters is that we reassert ourselves internationally making it clear that though the EU is a valued partner, we do not share in its destination nor walk the same path. That is the objective. I didn't get into this to save a few quid nor strike free trade deals. This is about something much bigger. 

No comments:

Post a comment