Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Why are eurosceptics obsessed with bananas?

As much as a lot of the regulation following the Single European Act was bad regulation, it was the transition costs that finished off small and medium sized operators from slaughterhouses to electronics manufactures. Conformity, training and equipping for a new regime is no small undertaking and in the case of small producers, too much to ask.

The regulatory regime that had existed since before the war was junked in a short time. For small businessmen this was the equivalent of the mine closures. For many it remains an open wound which is what drives opposition to the EU and regulation to this day.

But the change process was not handled well. Information was sparse in the days before the internet and authorities were strict and swift in prosecuting non compliance. Businesses that had worked the same way for generations were told that tradition means of production were now illegal. There was no appeal and no exception for craft businesses. It was unfair, it was botched and it was mean spirited. It also created favour for those who could afford the regulatory compliance. Corporates have been fans of regulation ever since as it killed off the competition.

This has been the basis of eurosceptic narratives for as long as I can remember. We had a decade of headlines with ever more arcane and obscure rules imposed in a rush, without the authorities even understanding the purpose of them. It spawned the caricature of the overzealous official, ever keen to mount petty prosecutions of market traders. Food marketing standards, particularly rules about bananas then became symbolic of this regulatory revolution. It has been an article of faith ever since.

There is nothing the Tory right and the IEA would like more than to turn the clock back and restore regulatory independence. Even today the narrative is that regulations kill jobs and stifle competition. Hackneyed mantras we have heard for all of time.

But the truth of it is that what happened needed to happen. Regulatory harmonisation is necessary to have a genuine single market and standardisation reduces bureaucracy. The old regime was not fit for the modern world. More to the point, we were regulating for an entirely new world. There is no going back. We took the decision to swallow it whole and push it through at all costs. There was pain, but also gain.

There's a lot to be said for so-called EU regulations. While they were bad at time of implementation, we have seen twenty years of incremental improvements for what is an increasingly complex world. To have our own set of rules and regulations would mean massively bloating the public sector in order to accumulate the necessary expertise to regulate. Why not take off the shelf regulations and tweak them? After all, that's what the EU now does. It increasingly adopts the majority of rules and standards from global bodies.

If we want to talk about deregulation (reducing red tape) then the answer is to secure better regulation. Deregulation is just code for cutting red tape. Standardising and reforming regulation is every bit as good as deregulation when it comes to removing red tape and in fact, there would be more red tape if no regulation existed.

In order to get regulatory reforms what we need is to be in at the top tables influencing the conventions and agreements that make up the larger trade deals. Just recently Martin Schulz was arguing that the ILO conventions should be part of TTIP. So if we want to shape these goliath agreements then obviously you'd want to be in at the ILO level with a full veto to make sure that any package deals the EU makes are shaped the way you want them. That is influence we do not have in the EU, especially as the EU increasingly marginalises British input when we go via the EU.

The short of it is, Leavers need to modernise their arguments and slaughter the sacred cows of old; embrace the fact that regulation is now part of the modern world. Our ace in the hole argument is the fact that the EU is the middleman not and not the top table. It's a simple enough premise, but one seemingly beyond the grasp of the loser eurosceptic brigade.

That is why we have to spend so much time fighting them before we can even begin to think about fighting the enemy. Until these battles are resolved, they are the enemy. The fatuous utterances of Boris Johnson belong to 1992. It's not just Jeremy Corbyn and his fixation with railways and Trident who is stuck in the past.

Banana regulations are here to stay. The real question is who makes the rules, who speaks for us and whether we need the EU middleman to speak on our behalf. In world of multilateralism, at the birth of a global single market and global regulation, it is difficult to see how EU supranationalism is still relevant to Britain.

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