Monday, 27 January 2020

The tangible benefits of Brexit?

It is the fashion among remainers on Twitter to demand just one tangible benefit of Brexit. "Not stuff like ‘sovereignty’ ‘global deals’. I mean things like ‘quicker GP appointments’/‘new job for my son’ etc". This overlooks the fact that sovereignty and trade sovereignty were major themes in the referendum and a primary driver in people's decision to vote leave according to the Ashcroft polling of July 2016.

It is an unfortunate fact, though, that Vote Leave did produce matter which did imply tangible benefits as defined by our Tweeter above. As it happens I don't think it featured much in the actual campaign given the relatively low number of Youtube views, most of which will have occurred after the referendum, particularly by remainers seeking to delegitimise the vote.

Some will attempt to argue the point that the NHS will see more funding as a direct result of Brexit and that we have our budget contributions to spend in other areas, but anyone with a realistic grasp of the issues knows there will be no big Brexit spending bonanza unless it's a debt fuelled propaganda drive.

As it happens it is conceivable that restrictions on freedom of movement will have some marginal benefits in some sectors. It is difficult to say, though, whether it amounts to a net gain when you factor in the impact of leaving the single market. The answer is probably not. The fact is that there probably no unarguable tangible benefits and even if they were, it'll be a cold day in hell before any remainer accepts them as a rationale for Brexit when taken in the round.

Yet, for all that, and for all my own grim prognostications for the immediate future, I would still vote to leave. Nothing in the last three years detracts from what the EU actually is. Primarily it is a top down supreme government that presides over an economic construct imposed on the people of Europe who have no means to take control of the agenda or reform it in any meaningful way. We have MEPs who can at best shape the implementation of it, but essentially the destination remains the same whether we want it or not.

As regards to that, for the EU to advance its trade and economic agendas it quietly confiscates or restrains the powers of member states thus neutering any meaningful expressions of democracy. We have total freedom within the narrow parameters defined by the system, and a political class incapable of thinking outside of those parameters. That is why remainers don't see that we have lost our essential sovereignty. This is central to the entire debate and refusing to even entertain these higher "intangible" concepts is a refusal to engage in the debate at all.

The founding philosophy of the EU is essentially that the removal of national sovereignty in the pursuit of irreversible interdependence is essential to a lasting peace. But as we have found, particularly with immigration, if nations are robbed of their essential power to control the foundations of their societies then there is a rise of populism and generational resentment etc. This has weakened the foundations of European societies.

Whether or not Brexit brings any remedy to anything remains to be seen. There are sure to be constraints on popular expressions of sovereignty by way of the future relationship with the EU and there are still all manner of binding international agreements and governance frameworks, and Brexit of itself doesn't automatically enhance our own flawed democracy. There are plenty of dilemmas with no optimal outcomes ahead of us and serious questions to which Brexiteers have yet to adequately answer. And on those grounds the supposed intangible benefits of Brexit are also a little flimsy.

But then as Alex Dale points out "Brexit is a constitutional change not a policy one. It changes the relationship between voters and representatives. No more, no less. That's 'stuff like sovereignty'. There are no guaranteed material or policy outcomes that we don't fight for." What happens next and how we wield that sovereignty is entirely up to us. Our choices will have consequences but the choices and consequences will be ours and ours alone.

Essentially the argument for Brexit has not changed since the referendum of 1975 when the campaign to leave began. The argument was summed up succinctly in a speech by Michael Foot whose politics are a million miles from my own.
People didn't fight for the vote just to have the fun of electioneering. They wanted to see that the vote that they used at the ballot box could change things, stop things, alter things, remove governments when necessary. That's one of the principal reasons for having a vote. But that's not going to happen if we're gong to stay in the Market and if we become enmeshed in the whole of their machinery and apparatus - because what will happen then is that you can go an have an election in this country in which you can vote out the government here - but you won't be voting out all the governments that meet in Brussels to decide what is going to happen to us. [...] It is that precious inheritance given us by the people who fought for the right to vote, fought for the right to form trade unions, fought for the right to establish their own institutions, fought for the right to have an elected house of commons which should be the supreme authority in this country and answerable to nobody else. It is those things that are at stake in this campaign. We will have plenty of problems to solve after June the Fifth, but let us make it clear that, not merely to our own country, but to the other countries that we believe here in Britain we can solve these problems by using the strength of our democratic institutions instead of casting them aside in this trivial wanton way.
This is not a case for Brexit as such. This is a case for democracy. Brexit is merely a recognition that EU membership is not compatible with democracy - and if people would gladly sacrifice their life in the defence of it, they are ultimately not going to be swayed by the threat of not being able to get soft fruits out of season and having to fill in an extra from on the odd occasion they travel to Europe. Ultimately remainers failed to convince the wider public that these miserable fringe perks were superior to the notion of democracy and sovereignty as they imagine it. Voters are a bit more sophisticated than remainers ever gave them credit for.

Now that we are leaving, Brexit has already blooded the Labour party and some within their ranks recognise that there needs to be meaningful change. Today Keir Starmer has said "We need to end the monopoly of power in Westminster and put it back in the hands of people." He's calling for greater devolution. We do not as yet know what form this policy will take but The Leave Alliance has argued for real localism in politics. It's no use exchanging a technocratic unaccountable bureaucracy in Brussels for one in London. Brexit has to go one further. The regions must have real and consequential power including a veto on any future trade deals, not least since it's the regions most affected by sweeping decisions on trade.

If we can arrive at a point where the people have more control over their lives in terms of who and what comes into the country and on what terms, capable of revisiting and reforming policy without having to grovel to Brussels for permission then we might be getting somewhere. At least we can now have that debate. I don't know if that qualifies as a "tangible benefit" but I know it's worth fighting for. 

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