Thursday, 12 May 2016

A tragedy of eurosceptics

I couldn't be less impressed by Vote Leave or Brexit the Movie. I have no time for classic euroscepticism. It's well past its sell by date. Underlying all the empty rhetoric about going global lies a core or people who would have us revert to imperial measurements and restart the Commonwealth and haven't updated their thinking since the early nineties. 

The basic premise is still right. The EU is a fraudulent anti-democratic empire with no intention of reforming but the notion it stands in the way of Britain becoming a buccaneering libertarian utopia is just one that doesn't fly in a world of globalised regulation and global trade harmonisation efforts. The internet alone has rendered much of the debate obsolete for both sides of the argument yet this is lost on them. It's why the debate we're having today is nearly identical to the one we had in 1975.

What's lost is the complexity and depth of EU integration. We seem to do nothing but complain about how all pervasive the EU is yet at the same time entertain the delusion that we can tear up treaties and replace it all with a trade deal by teatime. Boris Johnson actually thinks like that. Assuming he thinks at all. Both the man and the argument have no depth at all. 

Worse still, I don't think Leavers fully comprehend what they are proposing. We've been at it so long that euroscepticism is just a reflex. A habit. In the minds of most eurosceptics we are simply asking for self-government once more. That was the nature of this request at one point but forty years down the line what we are actually demanding is a full blown revolution. 

As much as we are talking about a major reshaping of European politics we are now looking at a complete reordering of domestic politics and a transformation of UK governance. There is no going back to how things were because something now only work on a collaborative basis and some areas of EU activity didn't even exist in 1975. In some cases there is absolutely zero value in repatriating policy. 

In some respects the europhiles are right in that total sovereignty is a pipedream and is not going to happen. But what they propose is virtually none at all which is equally intolerable. Working out what we keep and what we choose to continue cooperation on will be the subject of very long and difficult debates. That obviously points to a phased withdrawal from the EU and it means that we will continue to pay for those areas of cooperation we maintain. And since we are likely going to take years to achieve this it is only good sense that we retain the single market for the time being. 

The kneejerk reaction against this is that if we choose a departure lounge or limbo process that we will get stuck there. Maybe, maybe not. that really depends on us and our domestic politics. The point being though, is that we will have the choice whether to diverge or not. I personally don't see a problem. In the EEA we'd have domestic control of key policy areas, we'd have an emergency brake on freedom of movement and we'd pay less into the EU budget. As a starter for ten that's a big improvement. The fact that the EU no longer makes its own regulation makes the influence argument redundant. We'd get our vote at the top tables back. 

The fact is that we will only diverge as far as domestic politics demands. There seems to be a perception that we can just win the referendum and return to the fields to live out our lives in a free country. But it doesn't work like that. To evolve out of the EU gravitational field will require persistent pressure and continued political engagement. 

George Osborne rightly remarks that Brexit will be a preoccupation of government for many years to come. There will be many political battles to fight after Brexit and a great many subsequent debates the establishment has been ducking for quite some time. We are looking to solve a cultural deadlock as well as a political one. That is why Brexit necessarily revitalises political discourse. For me, that's a prime motivator. I don't think I can stomach much more of our political discourse in its current configuration. 

There is a political naivety in euroscepticism in believing that leaving the EU is just a matter of signing a quick trade deal. That is why Vote Leave is running such a catastrophically inept campaign and it's why Brexit the Movie is utter rubbish. They don't comprehend the gravity of what they are asking which is why they have been so negligent in not setting out a plan. 

The problem for us is that rather a lot of MPs very much have grasped the complexity of Brexit and the consequences - and in calling the likes of Banks and Cummings to select committee they are wanting answers to two questions. Why and how. As it happens our dismal lot can't muster convincing answers to either question so we have Helen Goodman and Rachel Reeves reporting that the Leavers are a band of morons with demented ideas and I really don't blame them for coming away with that impression. It's just a pity parliament has zero intention of calling any expert witnesses.

And while such a non-entity of a committee is normally ignored, all eyes have been on it just recently. Journalists and opinion formers are looking closely to see if we have a legitimate grievance, but more importantly an alternative that won't result in one of the biggest political and economic calamities since the war. Certainly you wouldn't be in a rush to commit economic suicide and from listening to Cummings and Banks you would very much get the impression it was exactly that.

There's no official campaign position because we can't agree on one - even though reality suggests a staged withdrawal. The main reason why they would never publicly back the Flexit plan is obviously that it maintains the two things that their campaign is built around ending: it maintains Freedom of Movement of People, and it maintains more than half of the payments to the EU. That's the antithesis of their slogans.

And from their slogans we can deduce one of two things. They have forgotten the essence of why we want to leave or that they take voters for fools. Or both. If we are doing this just to prevent cheap polish plumbers and to save a few quid then it's not worth doing. But rather it speaks to their own ineptitude. To their minds Flexcit is "over-intellectualising" and it's not a message they can sell. They assume because they cannot sell it that it cannot be sold at all. Yet what we propose in Flexcit is paradoxical. It is revolutionary yet remarkably pedestrian. It's reasonable, progressive and safe and it doesn't burn the remainers the way that the aggressive Mr Cummings wants to.

In that regard, we had something we could use to get round the hesitation and prove that Brexit is safe. Cummings on the other hand wants Brexit to be hostile and does not care for the risks. Such is misanthropy and nihilism. And in the end you cannot get people to vote for misanthropy and nihilism. 

But underpinning it is primarily the motivation to control immigration. That is in the main thanks to Farage and his insistence that EU freedom of movement is open borders. It is the one thing standing in the way of having any kind of rational approach. It is also the wilful refusal to accept that Brexit is complex and will require compromise.

In saying Brexit is not so straightforward I have made many enemies within the Leave camp. We have seen all kinds of elaborate delusions cooked up to deny the reality and to disprove the notion that Brexit is complex, but in the end it is an exercise in self-deception and denialism. And that is the eurosceptic paradox again. The EU is a complex bureaucracy when it suits the narrative but when it comes to Brexit we can have it all wrapped up over a warm beer and a sandwich.

It is that anti-intellectualism that defines Farage, Ukip and euroscepticism as a whole and that is why euroscepticism has a track record of failure. It will be able to add a 2016 referendum defeat to its CV very soon. And while there is no movement more deserving of failure I find it ultimately heartbreaking. Years of effort and millions of pounds have been put into our cause all for it to be shredded by the obstinacy, lies, and ignorance of Farage, Cummings, Elliott and Banks at the last hurdle.

It's all the more depressing because that revolution is exactly what we need, we know how to do it, it's the right time to do it, and nothing is going to get better until we do it. The case for Brexit has never been stronger - but ultimately our dismal bunch would rather moan about regulation of kettles and foreigners. 

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