Sunday, 3 April 2016

Brexit: what's in it for you?

The Leave campaign is saying we will save £350m a week, enough to build new hospitals and blah blah blah. Because you are an adult with functioning critical faculties you don't believe this. That's good news. It shows you're thinking and refuse to be taken for a fool.

Should we leave we still have to pay our farmers agricultural subsidies, and because we are still interested in security cooperation we we uphold our commitments to financing Europol. There is also every likelihood that we will maintain academic cooperation programmes and uphold our involvement in the European Food Safety Authority. There are different layers of cooperation - none of which is going to come for free.

The only way we will keep everything we pay to the EU is if there is a total collapse of EU-UK relations. Nobody wants that. We have contracts and leases to uphold. We have joint spending plans and third party agreements with other countries through the EU and ending those prematurely would be a serious blow for both sides. The short of it is, we will be lucky to see any savings at all in the next ten years.

As much as we're not going to save any money worth writing home about, we're also going to want trade to continue on the same basis. Nobody in business wants to see the addition of cross-broader bureaucracy or tariffs. That's why we will stay in the European Economic Area (EEA). Even that may introduce some complications, but we'll park that for the moment.

Because we will want to continue trading on the same basis as before, we will at the very least need visaless access and since we will want certain concessions from the EU it is unlikely that we will end freedom of movement. It will be a condition of maintaining market access on the same terms. Because we will stay in the EEA that means there's going to be no major bonfire of regulations either.

So there's no overnight border controls, no fantasy new build hospitals, no NHS spending sprees and no radical change in our trade. The Leave campaign are off their trolley. But in that regard, the Remain campaign is unhinged too. They're saying Brexit would be a major catastrophe and we'd see everything from job losses to the slaughter of the first-born. If you are looking for accurate and credible arguments, the last pace you look is to the official campaigns. The fact is, trade wise, very little changes in the short to medium term.

So where does that leave us? From my perspective, as someone who obsesses over the minutia of trade and regulation, I think Brexit puts us in a far stronger position. The most likely outcome is that we rejoin Efta along with Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. With the addition of Britain, Efta then becomes the fourth largest trade bloc in the world. For sure, that's not as big as the EU by a long shot, but it's more agile, more democratic and far less bureaucratic.

From the outset, this immediately shoots down the argument that Britain would be isolated. Efta+UK is very serious global force. As much as it can cooperate to secure Efta wide trade agreements, each member may pursue their own interests unlike the EU.

That, in and of itself is worth having, but the real opportunity is that a beefed up Efta is very much in a position to pressure the EU into reforming not only the EEA agreement but also its own internal market practices. We actually get more power to reform the EU from outside it.

We've seen David Cameron's attempts to reform the EU. He asked for little and came back with nothing. According to a recent TNS poll, only 14% actually believe Cameron secured a successful reform deal. The majority is right on this. Cameron secured no binding agreements. There will be no reforms to the treaties of the EU and no return of powers. The notion that Cameron has secured EU reforms is the biggest political lie of my lifetime.

When the Remain camp says "we should stay in a reformed Europe" they perpetuate that same lie. To then suggest we need to "stay in and make it better" is yet more offensive in that Cameron has just given us a masterclass in how unreformable the EU is. The only way we are going to get real and lasting reforms to "Europe" is for Britain to leave the EU.

The fact is that Britain will never be a core member of the EU by way of not being in the Euro and will only ever be a reluctant member. Brexit gives us the best of both worlds in that we can have that separate and distinct special relationship with the EU without being governed by it.

As much as that is is a workable compromise that lets us do what we need, it also takes the brakes off the EU so it can do what it needs to do without the UK frustrating every effort to consolidate the Eurozone. It's achievable, it's safe and nobody loses. We maintain many of our international commitments to labour rights and human rights, we maintain first rate trade relations while being free to extend our diplomatic reach elsewhere without asking the EU for permission to act in our own interests.

But that's actually (almost) besides the point. What really matters is the domestic impact. A British exit from the European Union would trigger a revolutionary shake-up of public policy, having to take full responsibility for matters as diverse as agriculture, energy policy, fishing and the environment. Senior officials believe every corner of Whitehall to be uprooted in what is likely to be one of the most radical revisions of the British state since the Second World War.

Brexit is a total revolution of governance in the UK that puts virtually everything up for debate and everything under the microscope of public scrutiny. Exactly what we need. And isn't that what we all want? To give Westminster a serious kick up the backside and a fresh relationship with Europe? That's what we get if we leave the EU. All we get by voting to remain is the same stagnating domestic politics and exactly the same relationship with the EU with no prospect for reform.

They say we have a new relationship with the EU but they are lying. They will tinker here and there with the voting rituals trying to compensate for the increasing disengagement, but we have but we will see no real change in outcomes while the EU is still the supreme government. We will still be stuck in the same democratic deadlock with politics becoming ever more debased and toxic.

Brexit isn't about controlling immigration or saving a few quid. Those will be policy objectives once we have left but the key reason to leave is to set a chain of events in motion that will lead to a new settlement for Europe and a fresh start here at home. It's about bring a resolution to a forty year long quarrel with Europe, finding a political settlement that works for everyone.

Whichever way this referendum goes, I think it will be close. Nearly half the country will come away feeling burned. That is not nearly enough of a mandate for things to go on as before and I can only see politics becoming more sour in the wake of it. Should the leave side lose, there is no DevoMax deal sweetener on the other side. We will simply hit the factory reset button on a long running dispute and we regroup and push for yet another referendum. Staying in the EU settles nothing.

Brexit means a reboot for European relations, but mainly it is a reboot for democracy here at home, removing the thorn from the paw - ending a row that has bitterly divided politics for a generation. Without a vote for change nothing will be resolved and the fundamental question of who governs us will remain unanswered.

Brexit is a once in a lifetime opportunity to correct a historic mistake. It is a chance to make European relations what the should be - a relationship based on multilateralism and cooperation rather than subordination and coercion. It is a chance for our voices to be heard internationally. That's why you should vote to leave.

If you're voting to keep out johnny foreigner and save a few quid, don't bother. That's not the Europe I want. But if like me you want to see real European reform and revitalised democracy, vote to leave the EU. This is your one and only chance.

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