Wednesday 24 February 2016

The concise Brexit arguments

We are going to get months of interminable Brexit noise. We can expect nether accuracy, honesty or integrity from the media and nothing even approaching expertise. The Leave campaigns have the wrong end of the stick on most things, using obsolete arguments - but then the same can be said of the Remain camps, who to my mind are a great deal more dogmatic and insincere.

There are many areas of discussion that require some straightforward answers to difficult questions and so it is my intent that this blog will cut through some of the noise.

I make no pretence of being unbiased - but I believe I have been fair. Brexit is no silver bullet - it won't deliver everything we want and not all at once. But it is my view that it is is not nearly as risky as anyone suggests and still totally worth the trouble. In this post I am going to explore some of the key questions and assertions, but will have to keep it a little less intense than usual for ease of use. Let's dive in.

"We don't know what out looks like"

Yes we do. Or at least we can make some very safe assumptions. We know that the EU is a rules based organisation and it will follow its own rules as well as global rules. It knows as well as we do that a botched Brexit has damaging consequences for both parties, therefore both parties will seek to negotiate in good faith.

We will see a lot of debate around this - but it is all a waste of my time and yours. We will leave by Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty because that is the only means that puts the EU under a legal obligation to negotiate a settlement. It's the law.

That gives us two years to negotiate an agreement before we are considered out of the EU. That means we will in the first instance leave much of the existing relationship in tact, calling on as many existing legal instruments as possible.

This is to save time and effort and to reduce uncertainties. Neither side will want a lingering, obstructive process and will look for a rapid, equitable settlement. We will negotiate in blocks rather than opening up every article for debate.

In this, a bespoke deal is largely a fantasy as it could not be negotiated inside the mandated two years under Article 50. Nobody wants talks to go on longer and nobody is served by it dragging on. No other alternatives come even close to single market membership, therefore the Norway approach is about as good as it gets for the interim. It's not immediately better, but no worse.

There are other fall-back positions but we can say with some certainty that single market access will be protected and we will concede on freedom of movement to get it. Many will not like it, but that's how it is.

The Remain camp is quite right when it says there is no chance of having a good deal without freedom of movement. We will accept that in the first instance. That means you still have the freedom to live and work in any EEA state, there are no tariffs and the regulatory regime doesn't change in any meaningful sense for the time being. That means the business environment remains the same - therefore all the scare stories you hear are absolute bunkum. It is not a leap into the dark as some suggest. It's perfectly safe.

"But Norway adopts all the rules and has no influence"

As part of the EEA agreement, Norway is consulted on all legislation before it goes anywhere near a vote and under the terms of the EEA agreement, Efta has a veto and all Efta states must agree to new rules for them to be adopted.

As to how much law they adopt is neither here nor there. The point is, unlike Britain, they can reject it if they don't want it. In any case, the substance of EU rules is built around ISO standards - and the text is increasingly reproduced from global agreements on regulation, forged by the ILO, IMO, UNECE, Codex and a number of other global bodies. These are technical bodies comprising of well over 100 nations. They are the real top tables in global affairs. See illustration above. The EU is a law taker, not a law maker.

In this Norway has a free vote and a veto and right of opt-out and can shape the rules before they are handed down to the EU. So, yes, Norway has significant influence and even chairs many global committees.

The EU is becoming increasingly irrelevant where law-making is concerned. It is a middleman - and that dynamic will be the model of the future until the EU goes the way of the dinosaur. As far as having a vote in the EU parliament goes, this blogger does not give a tinker's damn. It's a toothless talking shop that has very little power to change the substance of the rules the EU adopts.

"Norway still pays into the EU budget"

Yes it does. Considerably less. By how much is debatable. Strictly speaking it does not pay for single market access. It pays for participation various EU programmes along with the EEA Grants system - a means of direct aid to Eastern European states. How much we will pay is contingent on which areas of cooperation we decide to retain over and above the basic EEA agreement.

Despite what the Leave campaigns say, we are not going to save a huge amount in the mid term, but this has never really been about penny pinching. It's ultimately about the people's right to say no. That democracy thing.

"So we don't save money, deregulate or control immigration"

We are going to be tied into the EU for a long time and that isn't going to come for free. We don't just wave a magic wand and leave. We have to evolve our way out in the same way we gradually went in. There are some cooperation agreements we will remain members of, as indeed other non-EU members are, and we will continue to pay for them.

We are not starting from scratch. We are looking at a careful process of exit and though the Article 50 negotiations will provide the basic framework of the settlement, there will be much to re-evaluate thereafter. As to deregulation, it's not the "killer app" many assume it is. The best way to reduce red tape is to get better regulation. We will get that by way of better access to those top tables that make the regulation. That's half the point of leaving the EU.

Where immigration is concerned, it is obvious to all that there are stresses and strains that will require a common solution and a revision of existing agreements is on the horizon. Joining our friends in Efta, we will be a sufficiently large influence to force renewed talks. Not that the EU will need much persuading. We will be kicking at an open door. Everybody recognises that something must be done.

Even if we could go down the "hard Brexit" route, it still wouldn't give us full control over our borders and Brexit doesn't really speak to the wider issues. We are better off dealing with Brexit first and then acting on immigration. Freedom of movement is not the same as open borders, and it is a wholly different strata of law to asylum. Many on the Leave side have the wrong end of the stick. We will resolve the immigration issues, but Brexit has to come first.

"Can't we get a better deal than Norway?"

No. The Norway Option is safe, quick and equitable. It reduces risks for both sides. We won't get a better deal because if we did, everybody else would want to leave as well, so such will not be offered. Moreover, the EU will not want yet another new framework for trading with close allies. It will want a standardised approach. It won't be a worse deal either for the same reasons, and petulance on the part of the EU could store up future ill will.

The Norway settlement is only a transitional agreement. The end game is to create a genuine European single market, breaking free of the Brussels-centric EU "single market" which is only really a single market in the imagination of eurocrats - but we will not achieve this in a single bound.

A complete reform of European legislative mechanisms is the objective we are seeking.  There is too much emphasis on the Norway Option's shortcomings in the Brexit debate. It is only temporary. It doesn't really matter which route we took as long as we get out safely.

"Won't we be isolated?"

Stop. Listen to yourself. Is Australia or Canada isolated? No. And we are a bigger economy. In any case, nobody "goes it alone". Half the point of Brexit is to be able to form ad-hoc alliances and coalitions at bodies like the WTO in order to get the best for Britain - rather than being forced to adopt the common EU position every single time on every individual issue. This is true cooperation and multilateralism instead of the dead hand of supranationalism.

"What about national security?"

Britain still remains a member of NATO - and to this day our defence procurement is always geared for NATO cooperation be that with the USA or Italy or France. With regard to terrorism we can safely assume that the EU is every bit as keen on cooperation as we are in protecting the lives and property of all European citizens regardless of their EU membership. If those who advocate remaining in the EU claim otherwise, then that's as good a reason as any to leave.

We will still contribute to Europol and Interpol and we will still share intelligence data through a common framework. There is a debate to be had about the continuation of the European Arrest Warrant. We might well choose to opt in. Brexit does not mean the end of cooperation, nor does it necessarily mean a souring of EU relations.

"So if not much changes, why bother?"

By leaving the EU, though we adopt a lot of the technical regulations, there are still major gains over certain key areas of policy, not least energy, agriculture and fishing. More local control and more democratic decision making is never going to be a bad thing.

In the first instance, Brexit is more a gesture than anything. A gesture that says we are independent, but we cooperate out of choice rather than coercion - and we re-take the necessary safeguards to protect and enhance our own democracy. It sounds a bit vague in principle, but in practice it is huge.

It enhances our participation on the world stage, not least on all the global regulatory forums, it gives us leverage in Europe that we presently do not enjoy, and gives us new found agility by working to trading models best suited to our own industries - rather than those models dictated by the EU.

The benefits we will see from Brexit will not be a "big bang" revolution, rather a series of baby-steps toward a more engaging democracy and a revitalised media capable of reporting politics adequately. We will see greater democratic participation, and a parliament shaken out of its complacency. 

That the media is presently more excited by Boris Johnson than the fact the PM has just told the biggest political lie for forty years is in part a symptom of our gradual political decay - and very much a consequence of outsourcing key policy making. The most noticeable effects of Brexit will be cultural rather than economic. It will focus minds across the political spectrum.

The short of it is that Brexit isn't the end of the world, we can do it without it raining chimpanzees and slaughter of the first born - and it's going to be a good move for the UK as well as the EU. As much as anything, we are well overdue some political change of substance.

More to the point, David Cameron has shown us all that the EU cannot be reformed - and the fact he has so brazenly lied about his bogus reforms shows why a sea change in politics is necessary. If you're voting to remain then you are voting for more of the same. - The same politicians, the same politics, the same media - and the same lies. Frankly, if that status quo is acceptable to you then you deserve the government you get.

Ultimately Brexit opens the door to a genuine, global single market and paves the way for genuine reform of European institutions. It is our chance to correct a historic mistake and develop a mechanism for cooperation based on multilateralism rather than centralist supranationalism.

In the final analysis Cameron has been unable to secure meaningful and binding reforms. He never asked for them since asking for more would have resulted in a greater humiliation. He's banking on public ignorance being equal to that of when he pretended he had used the veto.

He might well be right in that it may be enough. Whether he gets away with it depends on you the reader. At best I speak to three thousand people a day. Whether this message goes further depends on what you do right now.

Brexit isn't about the pettifogging whinges of both campaigns. It's about Britain's place in the world: either as an independent democracy with its own voice on the global forums, or whether we are to be subordinate to the EU, in a relationship where we can be stifled, subdued and overruled on the whim of the unwanted, the unelected and the unaccountable.

It comes down to one basic estimation. Do you think the British are capable, intelligent, passionate people who can shape the world, or are we to lose confidence in ourselves and delegate our obligations and responsibilities to the EU?

On a personal note, I believe the EU neither has the mandate nor the capability, or agility to ever be what it pretends to be - and I would rather face the uncertainty of democracy than the certainty of managerialism. More to the point, any scenario where the people are not the ultimate arbiters of what is legitimate law can only end in fire. In that, ironically, the EU is the prime obstacle to European Unity.

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