Friday, 12 February 2016

Answering SLATUKIP

On a more philosophical level I have little in common with @SLATUKIP but where we do agree is that this referendum debate should be as bullshit free as possible and the grubby underside of Ukip should be exposed for what it is: Naked, unhinged racism. They have today published a list of Brexit questions which I felt compelled to address, and they are more than welcome to republish this post for their readers as an op-ed piece. If they want to know, then I am sure their readers do too.

This will be a "fisk" piece. They start off by saying:
"The British people have a key decision to make. That decision has to be made on fact,not rhetoric. On cold, hard data, not emotion or principle. And on the real upsides and downsides of both options, not misinformation and fear. The problem is, there are no facts, as yet. Granted, the Campaign officially hasn't even started yet, but the scrabbling for position has, in earnest. So here are the key questions that this Slat Team Member wants the answers to.
Speaking with my hat on, there are facts available. There are always facts. It's what weighting each side adds to them. A mundane fact can be made major by the addition of prestige. If I say something that is true then so what. If a self-declared "economist" with a prestigious job title says it, it becomes news. 

The prestige factor is one to be most wary of. In the field of politics, my own advice is to look at the argument in its own right, detached from the institution or the individual. Experts can be biased, and they can also be wildly wrong. I don't doubt Christ Giles from the FT could blind me with economic theory, but he thinks leaving the EU starts with repealing the European Communities Act. Dumb.

Put simply, economists are not EU treaty law specialists. And as it happens, very few are. Brexit is a field of study in its own right and those claiming expertise should be viewed with caution. As to the assertion that the campaign hasn't officially started yet, we wait for no officialdom in true democracy. The campaign starts when the people decide that it has started and that was many months ago. So on to the questions:
Where is the Economic Consensus that shows Brexit will be Detrimental / Beneficial to our Economy? Both sides are happy to very often publicise viewpoints from individual economists, industries and commentators about how Brexit will affect our economy. Neither have provided any expert, independent economic consensus. Probably there is no consensus either way. After all, even if you laid every British Economist end to end, they still wouldn't reach a conclusion. So we'll settle for a majority. We've looked - and there is none. So, to both sides; Don't try to claim your option will be best for our economy unless you can prove it, which you can't.
In this our friends answer their own question. You cannot calculate the manifestly incalculable. But also, it is highly circumstantial. What we can safely say is that a botched Brexit would cause untold damage on the economy. A sudden ending of mutual recognition protocols and a one sided tariff arrangement would damage both parties. While the EU would seek to avoid that out of self interest, from a legal perspective, that is the default outcome.

From a political perspective, the EU has enough legal no-man's-land grey area to fudge something for mutual benefit. We have to assume that both parties enter exit negotiations in good faith because mishandling it has negative consequences for both.

That is the worst case scenario but the likelihood, as I explain in this post is minimal. It is more than likely that we end up with an EEA solution out of political pragmatism and convenience. It is the path of least resistance and it satisfies the needs of those who voted to leave while placating the near minority who voted to stay. Our establishment doesn't want to leave therefore it is reasonable to assume that a Brexit settlement would closely resemble EU membership without being actual membership.

On that basis, as the most likely scenario, we retain single market membership, thus the trading environment does not change for business, therefore the scares are way overblown. If there is a business impact, there are mitigation strategies that we can enact by way of our new found freedom to trade independently of the EU.
How Will Brexit Halt or Reduce Immigration, while still Retaining Single Market Access? The Ukip war-cry is 'Control Our Borders'. Farage means EU Migrants, of course. Non-EU Migration is under our own control - and has nothing to do with the EU. Accepting a certain proportion of genuine Refugees is an Legal Obligation under International Law (Article 33 of the 1951 Refugee Convention) - and is nothing to do with the EU.
Regarding EU Migration; "Free Movement of People" is highly likely to be a condition of Free Single Market Access - whether Eurozone, EEA or EFTA. Who says? Brexit's MEP Dan Hannan, long-time Brexit expert Richard North, and anyone who closely examines all of the various "Exit Plans". You simply cannot have one without the other.
This may or may not be actually true but critically Brexiteers have refused to guarantee otherwise. Switzerland has a higher percentage of EU Migrants than we do. So much for EU control.

But Ukip push this as a soundbite because they know that it will encourage those who are concerned about immigration to vote against the EU; even though Brexit will have minimal demonstrable effect on levels of EU migration if we wish to retain access to that Market. This is what Ukip will not tell you, because no-one is asking that key question.
SLATUKIP has hit upon one of the causes for the visceral civil war within the Leave camp. There are those who do acknowledge the reality, and then there are those who don't. In this, I feel it unfair to single out Ukip, because Leave.EU, Vote Leave and Grassroots Out all either directly or tacitly imply that freedom of movement will end. It's the one thing they are united on. 

In this, they uniformly, knowingly or not, advocate a variation of the WTO Option, which is what I refer to as the "Suicide Option". Politically it sounds attractive to Brixiteers, but legally and realistically, it's a non-starter

The assumption of the Leave camps is that "we can getter a better deal than Norway". Categorically no we won't. We can expect an equitable deal but not a superior deal in that the latter would prompt other EU members to consider leaving. Hence why we call it the "better deal fallacy"

As to the Swiss Option, most acknowledge that it's a messy set up that took a long time to negotiate, neither side is happy with it and the EU is not likely to be in a rush to replicate something that doesn't work very well. In my view, Norway Option is about as good as it gets.

While that has good and bad, it should be noted that while the Norwegian establishment would join the EU tomorrow, the public overwhelmingly reject it to roughly the same margin that Brits reject Ukip. Moving on...
Will These Post-Brexit Trade Deals Be Better Or Worse Than What We Have Now? "Out of the EU and into the World" is the Brexit battle-cry on Trade. As if it's an either/or deal, when it's clearly not.
We don't want to be "Out of The EU" on trade - it's a massive market that our economy critically relies on. Many Eurosceptics have claimed that the EuroZone Market is 'failing' - it is not. It is growing slower - slightly different, hm? Until we know what the plan is, this is Brexit as we know it.
What IS true is that the Eurozone GDP as a percentage of world trade has reduced. This is due to increasing trade from the rest of the world, not reducing trade in Europe. It's a percentage. Promoting this as a sign of a 'failing EU' is false. We sell more to tiny Holland than we do to China. Will our trade with the EU increase or decrease?
And 'Into the World'? We trade very successfully with the world right now, under our own trade agreements, and those negotiated by the EU. Will the post-Brexit Trade Deals be better or worse? Eurosceptics seem convinced they will be better than current EU Deals. This, despite the fact they will be negotiated by David Cameron - the man who's negotiating skills have been ridiculed by Ukip. 
One fact is clear here: We already trade pretty successfully with both Europe and the Rest of the World right now. No side of the argument can claim, with confidence, that Brexit will be either worse or better than our current agreements.
The classic mistake of the eurosceptic blob is to believe that this is a binary choice between the EU and the rest of the world. They point to various tedious statistics about trade deficits etc, and to my mind this is all irrelevant. Neither market can be ignored and we cannot abandon one for the sake of the other. 

What it is safe to say is that given that the "suicide solution" is not even politically possible, and Norway is about the most likely outcome, the risks to business are minimal, though the opportunities presented are massive. That is, though, entirely contingent on who we elect. In that, I trust democracy and I accept the consequences of it. I am not so sure SLATUKIP has the same trust in people that I do

There is a much broader argument to be had about the nature of trade as it stands today and how it will evolve in the future as we see ever more globalisation and regulatory harmonisation bypassing the EU entirely. What we can say is that this referendum debate will get nowhere near the real substance of it. A recent long exchange with Samuel Lowe from Friends of the Earth UK goes into the details, and this post outlines how not having our say can damage our prospects. 

What I will say is that SLATUKIP has a slightly naive vision of how trade works in that the real business of trade talks these days happens in the context of backroom officials making technical agreements to remove technical barriers to trade, which globally add anywhere up to $400bn to the cost of trade.

In this, any Brexit debate that touches on tariffs but does not mention the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement is simply not one worthy of our attention. That then rules out David Campbell-Bannerman, Ruth Lea, John Redwood and Daniel Hannan. And unsurprisingly, Nigel Farage. 

If asked to put it in one sentence it would be that trade deals would not necessarily be better, though there is every reason to believe that they would be given we would take a different approach. What I can say is that they wouldn't be worse. The EU is not famed for rapid, decisive action nor is it's market size an asset given the tedious horse trading that every last decision must go through. 
So What Exactly Is The Post Brexit Plan? Does anybody know? The various Brexit groups don't - there are so many options available, and none are agreed as yet among the Eurosceptics. At some point, we need to know what the plan will be, and we hope it's not as some Ukip person on Social Media claimed,"Leave then sort out all the details". Because right now, that's precisely what the 'Plan' seems to be. What will post-Brexit Britain look like? What laws will change? What EU Regulations will we keep? Are we Norway, Switzerland or Iceland? - and if none, what exactly will the plan be? Because frankly "Let's all hope for the best" is not really a Game Plan.
SLATUKIP says "there are so many options available" but if you examine the technical and political realities, there really aren't. Nobody has argued harder (to little avail) that the Leave side must have a plan, but the prevailing Ukip mentality is that it will all come out in the wash. This is why we can expect to see a multitude of illogical and contradictory claims coming from all of the leave camps.

The Norway Option is the one credible direction that Leave could take, but politically it is impossible thanks to two solid years of Farage sending out dog whistles that leaving the EU is the only way to control our borders, which simply isn't true.

In that regard, the lack of a workable plan is very much the fault of Farage and primarily the reason we will probably stay in the EU. In this regard, on behalf of LeaveHQ, we thank the SLATUKIP crew for demonstrating our point for us. If the Remain campaign ever hits them with these questions, they will be sunk.  

To answer the questions directly, we will keep a large body of regulation, we will continue to pay into the EU budget, and even if there is a total separation, we sill have contractual commitments to various EU internal programmes that will see us paying in for many years after leaving. We will pay a good deal less, and implement fewer laws, but the essence of the single market regulation doesn't change and that's probably no bad thing either.
When Does The #ProjectFear Stop and The Facts Start? Eurosceptics have made much recently of what they call #ProjectFear - Pro-EU statements designed to scare the undecided that leaving the EU will be a disaster. And Eurosceptics are quite right to do so. We, however would make this point; the Fear Policy works both ways. Ukip, EuroSceptics, the Daily Mail and Daily Express instigated their own Project Fear about 5 years ago and have not relented since.
Can you buy a KitKat today? Of course you can. The Daily Express said the EU would ban them. To date there are 692 EU Myths listed here (and that site hasn't even been updated recently) things the EU are going to legislate against or force upon us, from big to small.
"I wonder what's down there? Can anybody tell me? Anybody? Ukip have blamed the EU for many things, some of them true, but many of them false. So Eurosceptics - If you don't like the 'Remain' Campaigns #ProjectFear - simply cease your own, identical campaign.
The lies, spin and misinformation from both sides, right now, stinks to high heaven. When are we going to see truth? Both sides of the argument owe a duty to the British people to provide that truth. Soon. Your Target Audience should be the 'Undecideds' - not the 'Already Converteds'. And those 'Undecideds' will only be convinced by facts.
Public understanding of regulation on both side of the debate is minimal. Even those who are supposed to know do not. We see a broad range of incomprehension from the kipperish histrionics to a more serious and disturbing fog of confusion in the EU itself. In this I would warn against snobbery over the Daily Mail and Daily Express in that the Grauniad is just as bad in its own way, and to date I have yet to see an mainstream article that even touches on the basics.

In this regard the legacy "mainstream" media should not be counted on for anything other than trivial gossip. Even SLATUKIP's searching questions far surpasses that of the media, and so I would call up on them to join us in calling for their readers to wean themselves off mainstream sources and pay closer to attention to the blogs where the real debates of substance happen.

Whoever wins the referendum, if at the end we can say that the monopoly position of our corrupt newspapers is severely diminished and their credibility in tatters then that can only enhance public debate and the quality of our remaining democracy. 
How Can You Ask Us To Simply Vote For A "Leap of Faith" Because right now that's what both sides are doing. Some will vote to LEAVE or REMAIN regardless - for many, it's a philosophical question, regardless of economics or 'a plan'. The rest of us who have yet to decide will not be fooled. Do either side really believe they can convince us with soundbites? No. This simply will not happen.
It should be noted that the future is always a leap into the dark. None of us has a crystal ball and though it may be hackneyed to say so, staying in the EU presents no more certainty than leaving it. We are not likely to get an informed debate from our media or the lead campaigns on both sides.

To conclude, I would say there are many good reasons to leave the EU. If, however, SLATUKIP is asking if any of the Brexit campaign arguments stand up, then that is a separate question. The answer to that is categorically no

But were there to be a public debate between SLATUKIP and Team Flexcit, we would see a very thorough, candid and close run debate that would cover all of the issues in way a that the main campaigns, including the odious and deceitful Stronger In and British Influence, could never hope to match. None of whom have the capacity, expertise or integrity to execute an informed debate. And so we would say that the whole referendum is going to be threadbare on both sides.

In this, I would expect in kind that SLATUKIP apply the same astute scrutiny to the Remain side as well - for their ideas, arguments and tactics are similarly weak. It's 1975 all over again. 

The ultimate question being one of democracy. Do we want a supreme government of Europe telling us what to do? Personally, the answer would always be no, unless it could be demonstrated that it were a democracy. In that regard, I don't think anything the scale of the EU can ever be such. And in this it is self-confessed europhile, Sarah "fussbucket" Woolaston from whom I take my lead:
When I ask at public meetings, few can name a single one of their six MEPs, fewer still have ever contacted one. Why would they bother when their representatives are powerless in comparison to the elite corps of unelected, remote and unaccountable commissioners?
And that really is the crux of the issue. We don't know or care who our MEPs are, except for the eccentric blowhards and careerists. And why is that? Put simply, media follows the influential. In no meaningful sense do MEPs hold influence, nor are they likely to initiate change or succeed in its execution. 

Democracy means "people power". The word democracy stems from the Greek word, dēmokratía, comprising two parts:dêmos "people" and kratos "power". Without a demos, there is no democracy. But people without power is not democracy either. For all the nonsense spoken about Norway not being "at the table", it is apparent there's not much to be said for being at the table either.

But in this, Dr Fussbucket should be reminded that most people don't know who their MP is either, wouldn't bother to contact them, and if they did, they would realise just how futile that is too. Not at any level can we say that the people have power - thus if we do want democracy, while leaving the EU is a worthy first step, there is a lot more to be done thereafter.

Too much of the Brexit debate is beset by petty problematising rather than asking the serious questions and even SLATUKIP reveals that the arguments for staying put are more anti-Brexit than pro-EU. On balance, the risks are nothing quite so severe as presented, nor are the advantages, so this is really a question about the future and our estimate of the direction the EU is going in and whether that is the right path for Britain.

I take a more optimistic view than most in that Brexit can correct a historical mistake and help wake the EU from its ideological slumber, and add a new vitality to global politics. 

The problem is, we will never be able to have these loftier debates until we can move past the technical minutia. In that, the Leave campaigns waffling on about saving £350m a week to spend on teachers and nurses will ensure this referendum is a repeat of 1975. It's a condescending, dishonest position that holds no water and amounts to petty bean-counting. It has never been about that. 

Consequently, it is my belief that this referendum will solve nothing if Britain votes to remain, because issues are only ever resolved by detailed and frank debate that relates to the political realities of the day. SLATUKIP's demands for an honest and intelligent debate will likely be as futile as my attempt to get the Leave campaign to adopt a credible plan. In both instances, until we have neutered the malign influence of the legacy media, it just isn't going to be resolved.  

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