Thursday, 17 March 2016

It is a basic obligation to have a Brexit plan

For years Eurosceptics have been saying the EU is more than just a trade bloc. Yet bizarrely they believe that 40 years of political, economic and social integration means it can all be casually picked apart in two years and replaced with a generic free trade deal. Anyone who makes that case has not realised just how insanely complex our relationship with the EU is.

My writing about the nature of regulations and cooperation agreements is less an effort to tell you how it works as an attempt to understand it myself. All I can say with absolute certainty is that it is complex and it has taken me years to to get to grips with a lot of the basics. What I have also discovered is that many of the Eurocrats themselves don't know exactly how it works.

That is not in all instances because they are ignorant - it's just that a low level functionary, unless they had a particular curiosity would not really think to look outside their own narrow sphere of concern. Different stratas of policy making have their own unique channels because the regulations and standards originate from different institutions.

I think it would be fair to say that nobody really understands exactly how it all works. If such a person exists, I would love to meet them and there's a good chance that if they said they did they would probably be massively overconfident.

There are multiple policy areas that have taken decades to evolve into the state they are presently in - and as much as we remember well the shambolic roll-out of EU integration - the process could just as easily be as messy when putting the process into reverse. It is not simply a case of reverting to the system as was in that things change over time and in the last forty years of global progress, just about everything has changed in every conceivable way.

So if you are going to demand the end of various policy instruments - it might be a good idea if you can specify what you would replace them with. The idea that you could replace the fisheries policy with something knocked up in under two years is, to put it bluntly, moon-howling fuckwittery.

And so as much as you would want a replacement policy, you also need a change management plan so as to avoid unmitigated disasters similar to the ones the EU inflicted on us that precipitated many to join the anti-EU movement in the first place.

Since even that would be implausible to manage in just two years of negotiating as mandated by Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, it is reasonable to assume that if we wanted to leave we would have to adopt absolutely everything wholesale by agreement in order to maintain convergence and continuity of trade. We then take our time working out which bits could and should be entirely repatriated without any looming deadline.

To even begin to open up negotiations on fishing means examining existing contracts which cannot be torn up in some salivating nationalist fervour as kippers would have it. They say Britain would thrive outside the EU, which is true but the main reason we thrive regardless is because we honour contracts and the rule of law like no other. To throw such a hard won reputation in to the bin would damage our international standing and our credit rating.

And so given how even opening up such discussions would create many causes for disagreement between member states - possibly resulting in them threatening to veto an extension of Article 50 talks - the best remedy is not to open up such negotiations at all as part of the initial leaving process.

Granted, that leaves several things unresolved. As would many other areas of policy as we adopted them wholesale upon leaving. It is entirely unrealistic to expect that everything can be achieved all at once.

It cannot be done without long and detailed analysis by people familiar with the territory - and would require a legion of officials each cooperating with the EU's legion of newly tasked Brexit officials. They will need their own division of officials to do it and they will, not unreasonably, expect us to pay for it.

We will need to negotiate over a long time and so for ease and simplicity of leaving, we will adopt as much as possible as it already stands to remove the possibility of Article 50 talks stalling or collapsing altogether.

I do not believe a collapse of talks would result in automatic ejection as the Treaty suggests in that the consequences would be horrifying for the EU as well as us. We would put Brexit on pause in such an event. It would cause major diplomatic fallout and a market shockwave.

In fact, there are many windows whereby there could be catastrophic consequences and so, it is our proposal in Flexcit, that we remove the possibility of such disasters by adopting the entire acquis, entirely unmolested.

That then means Brexit is safe and orderly and nothing changes for anyone on Day One of Brexit and not for the foreseeable future. There are no shocks to the system - no rational reason for Brexit fears and all that happens is a temporary flux in the currency markets which rapidly rebound as soon as the yobs in suits in the City get the message that it's business as usual.

As much as Flexcit answers nearly all of the questions in that regard, it should be adopted by the campaign on that basis alone. Not least because that is exactly how our own civil service would play it when confronted with the realities of Brexit - realities just about everybody in the world can see unless you are in Ukip or happen to be a staff member at Vote Leave.

The reason they will not adopt a credible, sensible, pragmatic plan is that it rather pisses on a few bonfires. It means that nobody is saving any money any time soon, there will be no slash and burn of regulation and the advantages to leaving in the shorter term as slight to nonexistent. In fact, in most respects, we are agreeing with many of the experts in the Remain camp.

The key difference is that the Brexit complications are their entire rationale for staying in - not that being members of the EU is necessarily desirable. To me that is a cop out in avoiding doing the very necessary. Just because something may prove slow and complex does not mean it should not be done. Had we adopted that mentality the Forth Rail Bridge would never have been built.

The problem we have now is that at this late stage in the game, adopting Flexcit would mean rowing back on just about every single claim made by Vote Leave and Ukip as to what Brexit can accomplish - and would expose the entire movements narrative for what it is. A fraud. And one that takes voters for stupid.

Most people I talk to are not in the least bit convinced that a few extra quid is worth the bother - nor do they especially give a monkeys about regulations. They do not believe that dispense with regulations will make them wealthier or their lives any better. It's a weak line of attack and everybody knows it.

Instead of confronting reality, the Leave campaign and its long standing and senior spokesmen keep up the pretence that leaving is as easy as pie and promises a renaissance of the Commonwealth and blah blah blah. This is their downfall. They cannot credibly answer the questions and because they have not been through the intellectual process of constructing a plan, they do not comprehend the impossibility of what they propose.

British voters have a nose for bullshit and they smell it coming off all the campaigns. We do not have that luxury though. Of the two, only one is asking people to vote for what is widely perceived as a leap into the dark - to which the questions voters have, have not been satisfactorily answered. They want a genuine debate - not the Boris and Dave show. Without such a debate they will vote for the status quo.

Since this is a foregone conclusion I tend to err on the side of pessimism and say the Leave campaign has already irretrievably blown it - not least because they lack the self-awareness to realise the scale of their own incompetence and ignorance. That leaves any Leave campaigners with half a clue out on their own, ploughing their own furrow.

Our best possible outcome at this point is to not be resoundingly rejected at the polls so that we have a movement we can salvage afterwards. It is my view that The Leave Alliance is as much damage control as it is the foundation of the movement to win the next referendum, whenever that happens. I may be an old man by then.

Having dispensed with the weak and cheapshot arguments, we are now faced with the task of producing creative, uplifting, inspiring and credible material which we can do - but without the necessary exposure, which we will not get from any of the Leave campaigns, such material is of limited effect. Not least with such a small budget.

Since we cannot make any big promises without setting off voters bullshit detectors we have to instead set out an alternative vision - which in my view comes down to real democratic reform - especially since the essence of undertaking this venture is democracy. It is not about ending helicopter safety regulations or saving a few quid. This is about mine and your sovereignty - our right to say no to our government.

While we cannot expect campaigners to really understand the nuances, they can at least appreciate the necessity to credibly reassure opinion formers. Only the Flexcit route can do that.

A failure to win the intellectual argument means that our movement will be judged by opinion formers as wanting - and trusted individuals will report that back to their social circles in the pub, the on Facebook and in the office. By not having a plan and ceding so much ground to the opposition, all we can really do is hope that enough people buy the fraud that Vote Leave and Ukip is selling. That can't win and doesn't deserve to.

It's no good saying that the Remain campaign is equally shambolic with no real answers. That may be true, but it is not they who are demanding a revolution nor are they asking for a total reshaping of European politics for the next century. It is we who must offer the answers. It is our basic obligation if we want voters to believe in our vision.

Since we have not done this, we are actually asking voters to side with us unreasonably. Nothing we are talking about really speaks to their immediate concerns and at the moment, without a plan, we are only really heaping more problems on voters who already have enough on their plate.

Having made the effort to understand the issues, I am convinced that Brexit can and should be done and I genuinely do not see that Brexit should cause anything like the headaches they threaten us with if handled correctly.

While I share the Remain camp view that Brexit is no small undertaking, there is nothing they can say to me that will convince me that we want or need a supreme government for Europe. We don't need a supranational authority telling us what to do and how to do it - and democracy, warts and all, is always preferable.

I believe we will pay a heavy price for remaining in the EU, economically, spiritually, culturally, democratically. We should leave and I think the public could be persuaded of that. Every voter in this land wants meaningful change and Brexit is most definitely the key. But if they are going to make that leap of faith, we must have a trustworthy message. We cannot say that Vote Leave has satisfied that most basic criteria.

Unless we can make voters an offer they cannot refuse, they will not vote for us - and they won't vote for an extra £933 a year in their pocket - not least because they will be last people on earth to get their hands on that money without serious democratic reform. The very suggestion they might is idiotic beyond belief. 

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