Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Brexit is a process, not an event

While this blog is on the subject of select committee meetings, I happened to watch Owen Paterson in action yesterday afternoon. While he is not the most compelling television personality, few in Westminster doubt his sincerity and contribution to government. He spoke of attempts to get a fundamentally bad aspect of the Habitats Directive amended. (Crop rotation)

To cut a long story short, he was told categorically that he could forget it. It took several years to reach an agreement and nobody is keen on reopening a Pandoras Box for renegotiation. Open it up to one amendment and then everybody else wants one and it must then go through the legislative process again. So bad one-size-fits all policy stays in place without the possibility of reform with no opt outs.

This is precisely why David Cameron did not seek to reform the EU treaties, or any instruments within. All we got was a scrap of paper reaffirming procedural powers we already have which have no real legal authority over the EU institutions. Now to me that is enough reason to leave. The EU is unresponsive and unreformable and makes bad policies that cannot be changed in any meaningful way.

In that regard I find it most irritating that people get sucked into tit for tat rows about how much law comes from Brussels. I've made the point ad nauseam that the EU adopts most of its rules from global bodies and many of you already know my concerns there. But the volume is wholly irrelevant.

If you look at regulations you will see very short passages reading "The member state shall replace their standards and practices in accordance with x standard". And while that is just fourteen words - they can wipe out an entire industry.

And so then it doesn't matter if it's one law or one million. Any rule adopted without right of refusal or opt out is wholly intolerable. There are times where compromise is in the greater good but the word compromise implies member states have a choice. That is not the case with the EU - and it never will be. That is reason enough to leave.

But that's actually not strictly the point of this post. The point is that because there is a reluctance to open up every Pandoras Box for renegotiation or reform, it really tells us a lot about how we will leave the EU. Any one policy area that becomes part of our Brexit settlement will not be opened for tinkering. Not with a two year time limit, and not when it requires agreement from other member states. Just not going to happen. To my mind this reaffirms the idea that we very much will swallow what we are offered without seeking to get bogged down in detail.

As we have seen, Remain analysts say the EU will play hardball and present us with a list of demands that we adopt most of the rules and continue paying for the cooperation agreements. We will. There is no better deal, there is no mythical bespoke "British Option" and the WTO option is completely out of the window for both parties. We will be offered an EEA solution or nothing. I do not see this as playing hardball at all. It's just a pragmatic recognition that something as complex as the EU does not get unpicked in two years.

Critics say that this is a Hotel California scenario where you can check out but never leave. And that really is the problem with both sides of this debate. Everybody is obsessed with this notion that day one after signing the Article 50 accords that the process of Brexit is complete and we all go back to the fields. That's not how it is going to work in reality. On day one, just about everything is going to be much the same as it was. All we will have secured is a recognition that we are no longer subordinate to the the EU. Materially, nothing is different.

It is only through very gradual piecemeal reform of the various cooperation agreements do we get to uncouple form the labyrinth of EU integration. It's a great deal more complex and time consuming than anybody really understands. Certainly not MPs and MEPs. What it doesn't mean is massive savings and it doesn't mean a slash and burn of red tape. But then it doesn't mean huge disruption for business either.

Because we leave the statute book the same on day one of Brexit, the domestic reforms begin on our own time table suchas replacing our fishing and agriculture policy. These will be gradual increments over years.

The fact is we are never going to fully decouple from the EU. We are never going to end many of the joint cooperation agreements and collaborative projects - nor would we wish to. This has never been about turning isolationist or ending cooperation. There is every advantage in maintaining mutual standards and common regulatory frameworks where they are viable but the entire point of this is the right to choose and the right to speak on our own behalf at all of the global bodies where the rules are made.

And in this all we're getting from the Remain camp is layer upon layer of complexity and snare traps as to why it simply cannot be done without seriously damaging our international standing and our economy. Nobody can say for a fact what the full consequences will be. But we can say they will be manageable specifically because the process is gradual.

The complications that arise are not permanent and if anything they are the added motivation to get busy engaging in the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. Bringing down transaction costs is a far more fruitful and worthwhile activity that hammering out agreements on tariffs. It is going to be a mammoth task in sorting out the various messes that have festered for forty years and there will be a degree of trial and error along the way. And it's probably going to cost us money rather than save money. If that's what they want us to admit then fine.

But what is the alternative? The certainty the EU offers is to become a bit part of a European oligarchy where the rules are made at the global top tables without us having a real say and a veto, we're pegged to the job destroying and growth killing policies of the EU and tied to its creaking trade policy which takes years to accomplish anything if it succeeds at all.

Gradually we will lose our standing internationally and eventually, as EU policy-making coalesces around the needs of the Euro we become second rate influence within the EU. We will be a third rate country if we remain a country at all. Cameron has not secured an opt out from ever closer union. The first piece of law that arrives on our statute book from Brussels is a betrayal of that promise.

And while there is no sudden death inside the EU and the rot will be gradual, a death by a thousand cuts, there is no reform on the horizon. Not in any meaningful sense. No overhaul of the various directives that cripple development and our energy sector. No reform of the intuitions and because we are forever bound by the limitations of various directives we will see no domestic policy shift either. We will be caught in an elaborate web of managerialism where nobody really knows who is accountable for what or how to change anything. What we get for staying in is the grinding status quo with anaemic growth.

Brexit on the other hand is a chance to pull the integration lever into reverse and back out as gradually as we went in. In may cause a short term marginal recession. It may cause a market shock followed by a rapid rebound and it may cause us to lose access to a largely useless EU trade deal here or there, but it will be the start of real change and an opportunity to engage in the emerging global single market.

Nobody denies that this will be a a challenge. It will most certainly focus minds in Westminster and Whitehall. They will be tasked with accomplish something real rather than off-shoring their responsibilities and being passive recipients of legal instructions. They will have to listen to businesses and act on their input rather than fobbing them off with the same old excuses. They will have to seek out and exploit new markets and new trade opportunities. They will have to make full use of their new found agility. In turn we might actually start seeing politics of substance once more.

In the end it's a fairly simple question. Do you want the EU as a supreme government? I really don't. I think it spells the death of Britain as a self governing country and I think that one day we will be forced out of the EU under less controlled circumstances and I think that will cost us a whole lot more. Unimaginably so. So we can either bite the bullet or we can simply resign ourselves to the rule of the bureaucrats and live as supplicants in a post-democracy society. I don't want that. That's why I am voting to leave and you should too.

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