Monday, 15 August 2016

Business as usual is not an option

The news that Brexit could be delayed until 2019 is not news and if it were news it would be welcome news. The government is in no position to make any moves yet and those in key positions are only just beginning to realise the enormity of it while the media hasn't even understood the basics.

There appears to be a dispute between Johnson and Fox as to who is in charge of foreign policy. Assuming the story has any basis in fact (after all, the Times just makes up these stories) this is only to be expected when you treat trade and foreign policy as separate disciplines. One should be an extension of the other and if we are doing it right then general foreign policy should be subordinate to trade.

For too long foreign policy has been an extension of virtue signalling, deciding who to bomb, who to arm and who to send aid parcels to. That is what happens when you completely abandon trade policy to the EU. Foreign policy should primarily be the business of advancing the national interest overseas, in which trade has a pivotal role.

Our foreign policy ought to be integral to any overall economic policy. As much as we need to be stimulating exports, we need to be looking at new markets and facilitating that trade through investment. That is where aid spending can be put to good use by investing in foreign infrastructure. As to existing markets we need to be looking at regulatory harmonisation with our main trading partners. This is where we must turn our attention to Codex and UNECE.

The fact of the matter is that we will not be doing much deregulation of our own and will not be seeking to deviate from European standards so we are looking at the process of bringing Indian produce up to specification - which again will require investment and a degree of bargaining to make existing supply chains more profitable.

Presently by having two departments working at odds with each other, with DfID hanging in the wind and directed to no real purpose we have a completely disjointed foreign policy that neither serves the national interest nor does anything especially productive. By maintaining a separate foreign office we are maintaining the pre-Brexit paradigm of operating a purely ambassadorial foreign policy without any real teeth.

What we need is a merger of trade, aid and foreign policy and we need a complete rethink of how we approach trade instead of fishing for antiquated bilateral deals. This is just one of the ways domestic governance will have to reform and that's before we even begin to look at our fishing and agricultural sectors.

The problem being that our establishment is far too locked into its old habits and will have rediscover the hard way largely because fresh thinking is excluded. Those wishing for a successful Brexit cannot just idly sit by and demand "action now". It is really up to industry and the wider public to present ideas and force their hand.

This is why it's a crying shame we don't have an effective movement with real leverage because we now have to watch them make it up as they go alone, largely sealed off from the outside world. Meanwhile, since nobody wants to sully themselves with the details and the political reality we have to wait for the alternate universe to synchronise with reality. The media and the politicians have to wake up and realise the scope of what is in front of them and realise for themselves that business as usual is not an option.

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