Thursday, 14 January 2016

Flexcit: a better idea than the EU

One thing Brits do endlessly is whinge about rules and regulations. It is often in the top five list of complaints about the EU, and results in many a "bent banana" story in the press. This often prompts the EU to publish official rebuttals saying "not us, guv". But that's not surprising. Our entire body of law is confusing mess.

While some have suggested the EU was wholly responsible for the flooding in Somerset, though there was a strong element of misapplied EU law, the fault lies less with the law itself as the agencies responsible for implementation. The clear argument is to abandon things like the Habitats Directive in favour of a mix between international conventions and local laws if only to simplify the process and shorten lines of accountability. That is, however, besides the point.

What we see in the government's own enquiry into the balance of competences is the age old complaint that the continent is far more relaxed about regulation and legal implementation than Britain. And that's because, while we may moan about legal red tape, we Brits love the stuff. Law and regulation is one of our primary preoccupations and it is one of our major exports. We are culturally predisposed toward it. Red tape is in our blood.

It really comes down to our fundamental belief in the rule of law. That it is written into the articles of the EU treaties is very much a British contribution. What the EU does to us is no worse than what we would do to ourselves if left to our own devices. So then we might be tempted to ask, whose actual fault is it if we aren't getting the best from our EU relationship?

But this isn't about blame. It's just a recognition that we are significantly culturally different and what works for the continent does not work especially well here. Or rather it does. Our fixation with the rule of law and red tape and the sanctity of contracts is why the City of London is a global financial hub - and would be in or out of the EU. It is why we are in the top five economies despite being a rainy little island with a big attitude problem.

This dynamic, if recognised, drives a horse and cart through all of the europhile arguments that things would not be regulated if we left the EU. The notion is utterly risible. If anything, you might even say that membership of the EU - or at least consenting to abide by global standards is a safeguard against regulating ourselves into oblivion.

What we need to recognise though is that the nexus of lawmaking is mind boggling in its complexity - and certainly beyond the wit of most oxygen wasters we send to Westminster. In most respects we will always be markedly different to the EU and there is never going to be full convergence - and there is never going to be a single legal framework however much the EU would like that. Thus it is in those areas where it is necessary for functional reasons we must concentrate our efforts - rather than for the sake of pursuing some ideological notion of federal "ever closer union".

In this we must also recognise that the efforts for common standards in trade are increasingly globalised. If, as industry suggests we do not have sufficient influence, then we need to increase our participation on all those international forums that make the laws, standards and codes of practice.

If we look at the British EEC/EU membership debate at any point in history, we have always heard the europhiles singing the song of how it is vitally important that we have a say in how the rules are made. What we are increasingly finding is that the EU blocks our access to the top tables and overrides our veto - and the trend is for that to become the norm. We would argue that EU membership means we have less say in the rules than ever.

We have argued at length that we should still seek maximum convergence with the EU regardless, but in order to protect, and acknowledge our uniqueness, we must have that vital veto, and as much as anything we must have it for purposes of leverage to ensure that our voice is heard.

In fact, looking at it, we are essentially agreeing with all the arguments made by the europhiles through the decades when it comes to the question of influence and engagement, only the crucial difference is we recognise the tectonic shift that has occurred over the last twenty years that has seen the EU usurped as the engine of globalisation. From this we see a fractal effect where the "little Englander" mentality has flourished across the whole of the EU, giving birth to a form of euro-parochialism.

It is such an enormous realisation for most that many a europhile zealot cannot even bring themselves to acknowledge it. When we speak of UNECE and the IMO, even to MEPs might as well be speaking in a foreign language. This is how disconnected they have become from the process.

The answer is to evolve the original vision beyond the corner of Europe we inhabit and break it open to the world, dispensing with the ideological and focusing on the practical - to bring about a global single market and a world wide community of equals, operating in the spirit of multilateralism - which has been gradually eroded by trade blocs and bloc deals like TTIP. In effect, it has to mutate to survive. All it can do to resist the tide of progress is to become ever more tyrannical.

Since letting go of old ideas is too traumatic to contemplate for an EU so set in its ways, it must be shaken out of its complacency and Brexit is the catalyst even that will drag the EU into the new century. The EU is a blocker to a new era of global politics and global cooperation - and until we break the deadlock - as only we can, we will continue to miss out - and the world will pass us by.

What we need is global system that protects our individuality but strengthens our commonality. That is the antithesis of the homogenising EU - who seeks harmonisation at any cost. Being that the case, our heritage, culture and habitats are threatened by the EU in that the EU will never care for our customs more than it cares about its supranational obsessions.

When it adds a layer of complexity to that which is already complex, the result can only be legislative chaos and a gradual collapse of good governance. We believe the Somerset floods are clear symptom of that dynamic and the next avoidable disaster we see will run along similar lines.

In short, there is a nothing much to be lost by parting ways with old ideas - and everything to be gained by embracing the new order of things. "Ever closer union" was always morally and intellectually bankrupt and could never secure an honest mandate in a billion years of trying. What we could have instead is a world without barriers - and a world where our freedom to work and travel is not limited to those places we can reach by EasyJet for less than a hundred quid.

We don't even have to take a gamble to do it. As we demonstrate in Flexcit, it can be done with minimal risk and has clear advantages for all concerned. As much as it puts us on the road to real domestic democratic reform, it also sees a new way forward for the world. To us, that is far more exciting than the tired ideas of the ring of stars. If we could put that proposition in front of voters come the day of the poll, we would actually have to work pretty hard to lose it.

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