Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Brexit is key to a world without barriers

We Brexiteers are chastised for our fanciful utopian vision of a post-EU Brexit. But why is that bad for us but perfectly acceptable for europhiles to have their own grand delusions, despite their many attempts at a European utopia falling apart and inflicting misery on the people of Southern Europe? Why is one ideology dangerous and haram and the other is not?

In truth, I think it's their utopian vision that will win out for the time being. We have the wrong kind of leavers on the tracks. The Brexit movement puts progressives in the clear minority. We have had Brexiteers demanding protections for UK steel, intensified border checks, wholesale scrapping of unspecified regulation and taking a wrecking ball to most of our EU cooperation. As much as I don't want the EU I don't really want that either. I do not want the UK to be redesigned to the template of Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson.

What I do want to see is Britain with a new relationship with Europe, cooperating as before, enjoying the same freedoms but with greater autonomy to act on the world stage and with more say in the rules that it adopts. The truth is that global trade needs global regulation and that is the direction of travel, but if we want such a system to work then it is the people of the UK who must have the ultimate veto and not the European Commission.

And while Europhiles persistently tell us "we know it's not perfect" and that we should stay in and help reform it, the fact of the matter is that the EU is inherently resistant to reform as recently demonstrated by David Cameron. We're certainly not going to get the flexibility or agility we want and a new relationship without leaving the EU looks improbable. The only way to get that new relationship is to leave.

In my ideal scenario we would leave the EU but for the time being stay in the EEA while we gradually evolve out of the EU gravitational field, deciding as we go which areas of cooperation are in our interests and which interests are best repatriated.

It is my view that because we have been integrated with the EU for so long, many of our administrative capabilities have atrophied which means we will have to redevelop domestic expertise over time, but in the process, being free of various EU directives, passing on responsibility for fishing and agriculture down to the regions. I want to see them free to formulate policy according to their distinct needs and innovating without the restraints of distant policy diktats.

For instance we have the Waste Framework Directive which places limitations on our use of landfill. This has never been a wholly intelligent policy and was instituted on the back of a kneejerk fad. In truth the UK landscape is scarred by quarries and mines which collect toxic water and lie derelict for decades. There is no reason why they could not be lined and converted for anaerobic gas collection and then later reclaimed as country parks when the potential is exhausted. You can pick over the details and tell me it wouldn't work if you like but that's just a forinstance.

I would like to see more sustainable management of fisheries and I would like to see local boats fishing sustainably in our own waters - and I would like to see Pennine hill farmers developing policy separate to that of Somerset arable farmers according to their own distinct landscapes and business needs.

Underpinning all this is our commitment to global conventions in habitats and agriculture which are important, but do not really need interpretation by Brussels technocrats to produce a single framework for Europe. Agricultural husbandry driven by ideological motives can and does produce disastrous effects.

And then looking at our overseas policy, I would very much like to see us doing more to help develop lesser developed countries with a view to exploiting the trade potential. Much of what the EU does is outsourced to external agencies. I think we should be using our aid policy in cohesion with our trade objectives. To an extent we already do but we are more dancing to the EU's tune than our own.

Rather than taking futile domestic measures that reduce our liberty in order to control immigration I want us to be looking at real solutions that address the push factors. In this I am of the view that the EU is an aggravator of push factors, not least in its boneheaded African trade policy and pseudo military interventions.

The net effect of all of this is a revitalisation of UK governance and restoring politics of consequence and significance rather than the empty rituals we see in the Westminster bubble. It would mean radical restructuring of Whitehall. It would mean breaking up councils and giving them more autonomy and making the people more responsible for the policies they implement. Real hands on democracy rather than the diktats of technocrats.

One thing often depresses me is a quick look at the Baltimore Sun where I occasionally see technical essays on cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, written by genuine local experts. How is the supposedly stupid USA has a far superior press? It's simple. The media is mainly a reflection on government. Since we have outsourced the policy making of substance we cannot expect journalism of substance. Our entire political and media class is beset by displacement activity.

What I would like to see is far greater global engagement, seeking to build common regulatory platforms, not for the creation of a supreme government for Europe to to facilitate global single market for the advantage of all rather than the a regulatory regime dominated by a hegemon like the EU.

Just about every one of these ambitions is ultimately thwarted by the dead hand of supranationalism. We are told what the rules are. We are frequently overruled. We are frequently told to swallow bad regulation because it's all that can be agreed. We are routinely subject to targets that distort good policy-making. We are subject to arbitrary whims of EU funded NGOs that lead to destructive one size fits all policies. And as much as that takes its toll on the economy, pushing up energy prices it also has its own insidious way of destroying competitiveness, creativity and jobs.

The EU and its advocates believe the EU to be the embodiment of liberal and progressive values yet in practice we see a Europe less unified, more fragmented, more augmentative and it is even creating divisions inside the UK. This is not what we sighed up for.

And looking to the future, the EU as much as admits it is near impossible to force through an agenda for a single market in services. That is why such barely exists in the EU internal market. If it is not achievable inside the EU then there is no chance of securing large multilateral agreements beyond the EU. IF there is to be a global single market in services is will have to grow incrementally, with independent actors forging their own agreements according to common regulatory frameworks which evolve over time.

The EU is fixated with getting everything done in one go, sometimes forcing the issue at great cost when trends suggest that people of their own accord are building commonality for data and banking systems without the intervention of government. In this all the EU does is create barriers to the outside world. In more ways than one, the closed off isolationist view that Ukippers have of the UK is exactly the same as that of the EU only on a much grander scale.

Underpinning the EU's dogmatic and inflexible approach is its prime directive of building a European superstate. They pretend that is not the agenda and say that it cannot happen, pointing out the many obstacles to that but this does not stop the EU trying. And it is not until we break this redundant idea that will never work can we evolve out of our ideological stagnation.

The fact is that a common market of rules and transboundary cooperation is entirely possible without their being a central authority and if it built on an opt in basis then it is something that evolves at the pace economies can handle and with a democratic mandate. That is something the EU will never obtain because it will always put its own priorities above the needs of people.

One of the greatest misconceptions of our age is that the EU represents multilateralism and cooperation. Were that true I would not be campaigning to leave the EU. I believe in the four freedoms of the common market but I do not see the rationale in ending them at Europe's borders. And if there is one thing this referendum has demonstrated, with the repeat insistence that a deals with the EU take years, taking them at their word, I can see that my ambitions for a truly free world trade system are never going to come to fruition so long as the EU exists.

We are told that leaving the EU may trigger a broader break up of the EU. I don't think that would necessarily be the case at first, but would could very well see allies following us into Efta. Perhaps then there would be a logic in replicating Efta for Southern Europe and perhaps even splitting the Euro currency? It would see a Europe of regional blocs each capable of responding to their own needs rather than being caught in a state of perpetual deadlock - where concerns are never addressed until crisis becomes an emergency.

It is my view that if the EU was genuinely committed to democracy and multilateralism then it would be looking at strategies to maintain the single market while abolishing itself. But it will not do that because it is a government and with all governments, power, without adequate checks and balances will always flow away from the people.

Effectively the people of Europe are being held hostage to the ideas of the last century on an idea that was flawed to begin with. The peace of Europe is not held together by governmental decree. Peace is secured by cooperation and democracy and trade. A Europe without democracy will only lead to a break up in less favourable conditions.

If we want to reform Europe and make it relevant to the internet world then we should be looking to move beyond the EU and the ideas of old men. The post-war settlement never anticipated the internet and smartphones and vast container ships the size of small towns. The ideas of 1916 do not speak to the reality of 2016.

What Europe needs now more than ever is reinvention, renewal and reform. That means letting go of bad ideas no matter how strongly we are attached to them. As much as Brexit marks a turning point for Britain and a revival of good governance, localism and democracy, it also marks a catalyst for wider reform of Europe. We are often told Britain should be leading Europe. Well this is our chance. This is our chance to part company with the luddism of the EU and start thinking about how we create a world with fewer barriers. While we remain locked in Fortress Europe, that can never happen.

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