Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Britain does not need the EU

Has the EU been good for Britain? Y'know what? I don't care. What's done is done. What I know is that Britain underwent a painful transformation in the early nineties in order to converge with Europe. There were winners and losers. The losers being mainly small to medium sized businesses for whom nothing would ever be the same again. It's why so much resentment still exists and it's why you won't find many farmers or fishermen of that era with anything good to say about the EU.

There are some who think we can roll back what was done. That we can turn the clock back. We can't. The world has evolved. Regulations are here to stay. More to the point, had the EU never existed we would still be looking at harmonisation of regulation on a global scale, as indeed we are today. So the questions is not about the past. It's about the present and the future. 

There are those who believe this is a battle between cosmopolitans and internationalists on one side and bigots and bumpkins on the other - right wing nationalists voting out of some misguided patriotism. It is precisely this stereotype that makes Leavers despise europhiles. It's a snobbish elitism - an entrenched belief that the EU represents progressivism and internationalism and that the great unwashed are voting against their own interests; They who need the stewardship of their benevolent and wise leaders

And such a mentality underpins the entire EU project. It is founded on the suspicion that the plebs know not what they do, and should be sidelined out of the decision making process. Their petty concerns are obstructive to the greater good. 

But such is misanthropy. If politics is not shaped by the people then it isn't democracy of any kind. And so exists a widening democratic deficit where there is widespread resentment of an aloof establishment that believes itself incapable of wrongdoing. 

So the real question is whether that gulf can be bridged. I don't believe it can. There is no mixed-mode democracy. There is no pooling of sovereignty. You either have democracy or you don't. Either you can say no to your government or you can't. Euroscepticism is not whipped up by the press. It is an authentic response to real problems.

There are those who argue that in a complex world where there are issues to be resolved on a global and regional level that shortcuts must be taken with democracy; That democracy itself must be redefined and the public must be conditioned to accept that some things are simply out of their control. We should not surrender to this specious notion. 

Most normal people look upon eurosceptics as though they were anoraks or lunatics. We do seem to get worked up about some curious things. Anything from oven gloves, helicopter safety rules right through to the infamous straight bananas. The europhiles have successfully painted sceptics as idiots with risible hangups about things that don't really matter. But this stuff does matter. 

There is a long standing dispute as to how much law comes from Brussels. Ukippers say it's 75%. Europhiles say it's 13%. The fact is nobody knows and we have no reliable way of putting a figure on it. But the very debate is an attempt to find an acceptable percentage of foreign made rules. It's a decoy. Any rules imposed upon Britain without right of refusal is intolerable. 

It is not that we are hostile to common rules. It's just that some are more challenging to implement than others and they have very real social costs. So we need flexibility and a little common sense in how we implement them. But the EU system does not allow for that. In this, entire industries can be wiped out at the stroke of a pen without it ever making the news.

And when we look at the deals the EU makes on our behalf, where regulatory harmonisation is a central feature, decisions are made by democracy-dodging trade officials who hold sway over the lives of millions. 

We are told that it is in the greater good to have the EU making decisions on our behalf over certain areas of common interest, but the definition of what constitutes a common interest is fluid. And who gets to decide? Somebody you can't name and didn't elect. But we are told not to complain. After all they give us goodies like cheap holidays. Let them eat cake!

It may be in the greater good to have some Portuguese trade official using regulation as a bartering chip between global giants, but it's not so great when it's your job on the table for discussion. We are told by patronising elites that we should not worry for our jobs because openness brings prosperity. To an extent it does, but we are still humans. Economic growth is not the only concern, 

There are social needs that transcend the economic and into the spiritual which we abandon at our peril. If we are to be slaves of economics, why even put on the pretence of having a democratic process? We are told that our objections are the petty griping of dinosaurs. That sovereignty is a silly antiquated notion that we plebs couldn't possibly understand. We are told that we are better off surrendering our sovereignty in exchange for growth and better rights. But that is what marks the fault line in this debate. 

Those making the decisions are the ones most shielded from the consequences. One thing law-makers never seem to understand is that there are unintended consequences to their interventions. We are told the EU gives us better workers rights. People genuinely believe this. It's why the young tend to be pro-EU. They have never seen what those rights look like in practice and what the overall effect on the labour market is. It is often counter productive, it kills growth and makes us less well off. 

But it's not just the young who believe the lies. It's also the public sector. The one thing that's good about the UK is that the state as an employer observes its own commitments. And so we have an entire class of people largely shielded from the real world consequences of EU law who will never understand why we hate it so much. 

We eurosceptics often like to complain about the "metro-elite bubble". But what we refer to is the mindset of those people who think the ends justify the means and cannot see the consequences of their actions. 

And then we are told that leaving the EU means leaving the largest single market in the world. This rather overlooks that the world is now the largest single market in the world. Those rules we are told are EU regulations from the global bodies. Ben Kelly explains in great detail just how extensive that is in this blog

Just this morning I was looking at the Basel Convention, a global agreement to prevent illegal movement of hazardous waste, linked with UN Sustainable Development Goals to reduce waste, protect health and the environment. They state in their press release that:
The morning plenary discussed: consultation with the Committee for Administering the Mechanism for Promoting Implementation and Compliance of the Convention (ICC); guidance on the implementation of Convention provisions dealing with the consequences of illegal traffic; cooperation with the World Customs Organization (WCO) on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System; a report on financial matters; the draft guidance manual on the sea-land interface, based on a revised International Maritime Organization (IMO) manual on port reception facilities; and the draft concept note by Uruguay and Mauritius for a new Basel Convention Partnership on Household Wastes.
These are the real top tables where the technical rules and regulations are decided. The session is pictured above. In this every nation has a free vote and right of opt out. Unless you're in the EU! And in this some judge or Commission official decides how we vote. 

The rules we import via the EU middleman cannot be changed in any meaningful way by the European Parliament. The process is entirely bereft of democracy. We are told that the rules goes through a long research process, consulting with businesses, trade unions, NGOs, and lawyers but nobody ever asks which ones, and who decides who can speak - or asks in whose interests they serve?

And while we can complain about our own government's own incompetence at least we can remove them. Our health and education ministers are most prominent (and usually hated) whichever party is in power, but that's because it's one of the few remaining areas where ministers are free to set the agenda and are responsible for the consequences of policy. Everything else must conform to parameters decided at the global level where we have next to no say. So yes, we are controlled in many invisible ways.

And so what about the future? Should we be content to be passengers, tossed around by the decisions of a minority elite? We often hear about the all powerful 1% but actually the power resides with the top 0.001%. Why should we submit to this?

Of course we are told that it's in our best interests to be told what to do and the rationale for this is that Britain is basically rubbish and has nothing to offer. A sad little island past its heyday with a questionable colonial past, and one that could not possibly survive unless we surrender our democracy to global power brokers.

Except that Britain is more than that. As a military power, even though we have suffered extensive cutbacks in manpower and equipment, we have knowhow. It is for that reason we are still a major military power. Moreover we are a military power willing to assert ourselves. We have soft power because we do abide by global conventions where most do not, and meet the obligations we sign up to. We know quite a lot about good governance.

We are a progressive island that has never needed the EU to tell us what to do. We are a global capital of banking, innovation and digital services. Our exports are no longer things we churn out of factories. Our primary export is our knowledge and our people are in demand the world over.

The kids may not see it. The bean counters in the public sector may not see it. The cosseted slobs in the media may not see it, but those of us working in the private sector know full well that Britain has got much to offer. We have tried outsourcing IT and aerospace. It doesn't work. Expertise is easy to find the world over. But conscientiousness and diligence is something the UK workforce offers that makes it worth what you pay. That's why corporates will not leave the UK if we leave the EU.

We do not need the EU for workers rights. We have a proud tradition of standing up to our employers and the government. We are world leaders in it, and much of the ILO conventions (on which EU regulations are based) on labour rights are trailing in our wake. I do not say this out of jingoistic pride. This is a matter of observable fact.

Roy Jenkins said in 1999 “There are only two coherent British attitudes to Europe. One is to participate fully and to endeavour to exercise as much influence and gain as much benefit as possible from the inside. The other is to recognise that Britain’s history, national psychology and political culture may be such that we can never be other than a foot-dragging and constantly complaining member; and that it would be better, and certainly would produce less friction, to accept this and to move towards an orderly, and if possible, reasonably amicable withdrawal.”

In that he is right. Britain can never lead in Europe by way of being on the fringes and not in the Euro. We will never be wholly committed to the supranational ideal. It is the enemy of democracy. Britain can be part of the global community, but as an equal, not as a supplicant of a supreme government for Europe. We can retain the single market and by way of being free to find our own path, we can expand it beyond the confines of little Europe. For that reason I have no hesitation in voting to leave.

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