Thursday, 2 June 2016

Brexit is the right answer to an otherwise unresolvable question

If you're in business, whenever you do, you make a plan. Things get expensive when things don't go to plan. So it's better if the conditions and assumptions on which you make your plans do not change. That is why business is generally averse to Brexit. They don't want change. Business wherever it is thrives if it can successfully adapt to its environment. And one of the appealing aspects of the EU as far as corporates are concerned is that very little can change while we are in. It makes for a stable business environment. It stops bothersome elections making a dent on their business activity.

As it happens, if I were them I would not want Brexit either. But I am not them. I am a taxpaying citizen of the UK who happens to think the government should serve the people first and that business does not have a god given right to be insulated from change.

But still, their opinion matters. And this is why the EEA option is the best bet. Making wild promises of deregulation may sound appealing but in practice it isn't. Adapting to regulatory change is what business hates. Not the regulation itself. What the EEA option promises is that things stay more or less the same. The same market access and no added costs. That is the best way to get their approval.

As it happens the best deregulation you can get is regulatory improvement. While Brexit does not promise a bonfire of regulation it can promise better access to the top tables. It means we have a direct line in making submissions to the global regulatory forums rather than having to clear them with the EU first. That said, I would say the impact on business for a good while will be slight.

But then we are free to do as Norway has done. While the rest of the EU is waiting years for bulky deals like CETA and TTIP to complete (which may never happen) we can be making agreements on specific products and sectors. It is for this reason Norway has a thriving aquaculture sector, exporting salmon to Japan. Imagine that. Selling sushi to the Japanese is like selling ice to eskimos.

This is why I remain utterly unconvinced by the grim Brexit prognostications. They are all to keep to exemplify the negatives but pay no attention at all to the positives. To say that Britain can do none of these things rather ignores that over a hundred smaller economies do exactly that outside the EU.

Some say we have nothing to export but Britain is very much a global leader in science and innovation. Some say our science is only good because of the 6% funding by the EU. This is untrue. We get the grants specifically because the applications are good with a strong chance of delivering. We get funding because British science is good. And there is nothing to say we have to pull out of EU academic cooperation agreements.

As far as any cost/benefit analysis goes, the variables are largely unknowable, but what we do know is that we are unlikely to see any radical shifts in policy for a long time. In that time there will be further progress at the global level to eliminate physical and technical barriers to trade. By the time we start exercising our new freedoms the advantages of EU political integration will be slight.

The truth of it is that we do not need a political merger in order to cooperate fully with our partners. The very idea is more ideological than practical and it is not in our interests. The New Zealand is adopting the same regulatory platforms as the EU but nobody is suggesting they give up their right to self-governance. Nobody would even suggest it.

So why is it presented as a foregone conclusion that Britain must? Quite simply, they are lying - presenting this as entirely an economic imperative and mischaracterising any objections as "inward looking". Not for nothing is the definitive history book on the EU named "The Great Deception".

Those who want us to remain in the EU have put up a smokescreen suggesting that Brexit is so damaging that we shouldn't even consider it. These are the ideologues, the zealots and those who genuinely believe their nonsense. Unfortunately that is an unhealthily large proportion of the electorate. It is assumed that we cannot have our cake and eat it. But Norway shows us that we can have single market access - and for whatever remaining barriers to trade the EU upholds, we can compensate for by way of having greater agility and the freedom to set our own agenda.

Most of all I am genuinely convinced that British politics will never be able to graduate beyond this bitter divide until we resolve the issue. Remaining in the EU, largely through a sustained campaign of propaganda and deception, will ensure that the cause will not die and if anything this referendum has picked up some new and younger recruits.

What the EEA option offers us is close relations on a similar basis but it's a relationship where we are partners and not subordinates. I see no reason why anyone but the most hardened europhile zealot would object to this - but at the same time it gives us leavers what we want more than controlling immigration, deregulation or saving a few quid. It will give us that one thing the EU can never offer. Democracy.

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