Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Brexit: Designing the future

When arguing with more reasonable advocates of the EU one notes that most have a hugely simplistic idea of how EU law-making works, to which my reply is always "it doesn't work like that". This prompts the question "so how does it work then?".

On Twitter, where these conversations take place, that's problematical for us. The shortest possible answer is "it depends". It depends on whether it is an exclusive or shared competence, whether it has crossovers into areas of exclusive competence, whether or not it is an economic matter - and whether there are specific reservations and opt outs.

And the fact is, when you are looking at systems of regulation, we are now increasingly looking at integrated packages of law, which builds sustainability into the DNA of economic development. That means virtually all environmental regulation now has an economic dynamic to it, thus can be seized by the EU as an exclusive competence. Any excuse will do!

The nature of the regulations dictate who is involved and the path it must travel and which of the respective technical, consultation and international bodies must be involved. What is true for maritime concerns, is not true of environmental concerns, except where there are overlaps, which is often. So in mapping the swim-lanes, there are seldom any constants and the direction of flow is almost entirely bespoke depending on the matter at hand. Never the same road twice.

So when pinned down on how it actually works, it's difficult to give anything other than a non-committal and heavily nuanced reply. One can describe the processes and procedures within the European Parliament but that is one stop on a long road, and the EU parliament is way down the line from the top.

What is abundantly clear is that global entities like UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) are becoming increasingly relevant and central to any regulatory effort - and it is here where the substance of regulations are fashioned, with the EU as a powerful voice within that.

That's not a bad thing in theory. There are inherent efficiencies in ensuring that a regional agreement is presented at the global level - with the position developed beforehand. But there is no reason why that regional agreement must be institutionalised and set in stone with fixed borders and powers of its own. When we are dealing with cross-border issues like the North Sea, there is no reason, for instance, for Bulgaria to be involved.

So, while we can make a very strong case for the need for a regional authority to deal with transboundary issues, we would expect and demand, if no regional entity existed already, that is was formed on the basis of cooperation and democracy - in a way that the EU most certainly isn't. If the EU never existed, in the world as it is now, we wouldn't invent it.

As much as the existing EU framework means that member states have increasingly little influence even at the regional level, we see the EU creating problems of its own in that it corrupts global rules with its own gold plating, meaning that exporters to the EU must meet EU standards as well as the global conventions - or at least be tasked with working out the differences.

More importantly, in terms of effects, it has a similar global reach as the global bodies - so that's almost the same has having two Westminster governments in the UK, working against each other. Insanity.

So when EU advocates say the UK leaving the EU would weaken the EU - that's actually a good thing - for everyone. It means more consensus based global decision making rather than having a regional hegemon holding all the cards. The EU is a superpower where regulation is concerned, easily rivalling the US. Good regulation is more likely to happen through consensus and cooperation. More voices with votes means more checks and balances against EU unilateralism.

Brexit though, is less about weakening the EU as recognising that our generation has a choice of its own to make. Do we want global governance or global government? A world based on mutuality and arbitration or one where there is single authority and little democracy?

If it is the former then we should be seeking to put global forums into the limelight and drag them out of the shadows. In this we should be asking why are we strengthening the authority of a body that denies us our own voice and increasingly represents nobody and nothing other than the ideology of European supranationalism - where all other concerns are secondary.

We might well ask, what is the point having our own diplomatic corps if it increasingly overruled by the EU? The answer is, none at all. And that's how the EU wants it. That's the essence of the case for leaving the EU. QMV based decision making on this scale can never be democratic. To say the wishes of even one nation, especially one like the UK, have been marginalised is unacceptable. Not when we are talking about an island of 65m people and one of the most dynamic economies on earth with its rich landscapes and unique shorelines.

When we Leavers say we want to go global, the substance of that is not that we want to go back to dealing with the Commonwealth or the "anglosphere". It's about building global institutions with transparency and democracy where all voices are heard. Remaining in the EU means losing our voice both within the EU and on the international stage - more so as the EU remodels around the needs of the Eurozone.

Brexit can only lead to increased global participation, not least because we won't have the choice not to. As to having influence, some have it that we are just a small island. But influence at the global level is disproportionate to the size of your potential markets. It's more about what you bring to the table.

Much of what we bring is our leadership in environmental attitudes, our expertise and also our authority by way of having a long standing record of implementing and enforcing global agreements like no other. That gives us international prestige - and working with Efta, the EU and Australia and others, we can help forge a global consensus.

What we have in the EU is an old idea designed for the previous century. It builds walls. Regulatory barriers and now physical walls. It is creating a fortress Europe - and one with territorial ambitions. What we are saying is that it is time to weaken that entity, break down the barriers and open it up to the whole world. It's about a vision for the future.

We Leavers need to be going out and convincing the EU faithfuls that the EU is the wrong direction of travel for the future, that we have a bigger and better idea, a larger and longer project that brings full democracy to all at the local and international level. It's about simplifying the processes, it's about creating transparency, shortening lines of accountability, cutting about the middleman and opening up Europe.

We must show that while there are those Leavers who just want to pull up the drawbridge and shut down Britain from the inside - their shrivelled vision is not only horrible - but not even possible even if it were desirable. But also, by explaining the true nature of the EU and how it works in practice, we should be able to demonstrate with ease that the EU is exactly the same mindset writ large - European parochialism.

In this Leavers should be less concerned with the EU and more concerned with exploring the bigger picture. If the EU wants to shut itself away from the world, that's really down to them - but we're saying we don't want to be part of that. If the EU wants to miss out on the modern and more agile trading environment, then there is little we can do to persuade it except to lead by example.

To that extent, this is what makes Efta an attractive proposition in that Efta is already an respectable body- but is made a stronger by an order of magnitude by the UK joining - which will also result in Norway and other non-EU allies getting a better deal.

Brexit ultimately means we have the best possible single market access along with access to extended agreements - but also the liberty to trade as we choose and vote as we please. From there we can set about choosing our strategic partners, re-engaging in the world and designing the future. Isn't that a more exciting idea that the status quo?

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