Saturday, 10 September 2016

Brexiteers should ready themselves for a disappointment

Vote Leave's exit plan
If you voted to leave the EU to save £350m a week and to end freedom of movement then you are in a for a let down. Britain needs and wants the fullest possible participation in the single market and in all likelihood we will need membership of it. There were never really any savings to be had by leaving the EU and if there were we wouldn't be seeing them this side of 2030. Britain also needs freedom of movement. We will be able to negotiate a token mechanism to slow it but the real work on immigration will have to be done elsewhere.

That though, will not see any dramatic reduction in immigration because migration globally is rising. We've done well to keep immigration at present levels all things considered and if we really did have "open borders" the problems would be far worse than they actually are. In truth we don't have that much of a problem. British cities are still safe enough. Wouldn't like to take my chances in Frankfurt of Paris though.

Similarly if you voted for sweeping deregulation, you're also likely to be disappointed. If we want to export anything anywhere we are going to have to follow the rules. There is no value in divergence. The reason Brits hate regulation is down to the shabby way it was implemented in the beginning. It's the process of change that does the damage, not the actual regulation itself. Industry isn't in a hurry to go through all that again. Worse still, much of the blame for what happened rests squarely with the government for forcing us to swallow it all at once and with no real means of appeal.

As with trade, we find that the very nature of trade has changed since the Eurosceptic mantras were last relevant. The world of global trade governance has exploded into an elaborate web of rules, regulations and processes. We're all out of silver bullets and we can no longer act unilaterally. Everything is now a process of debate and compromise and if we want to turn it to our advantage we have to invest heavily and navigate the international organisations with patience and skill.

In a lot of ways things have evolved a particular way because there is no sense in doing it any other way. Much of what we do is cheaper and more effective if we collaborate with other countries and because we have considerable integration things work better. Brexit will give us the choice to undo much of what has been done but when we look at the way things are and study how they came to be that way we will find we do not want to change them.

The short of it is, insofar as the man in the street is concerned, things will plod on as they always have. The real business of Brexit is a reconfiguration of technocratic governance to make it answer to Westminster rather than Brussels. That still doesn't change the nature of the beast. Masses of bureaucracy, decisions made remotely and sweeping changes made without any real consultation or consent. Changing that is a whole other matter.

By the time an Article 50 agreement is signed most of the eurosceptics will once agin find themselves politically marginalised. And that's a good thing. We could pander to their demands that we pull out of the single market and end freedom of movement but were we to do so we would be doing it in the full knowledge that it would be an act of self-harm that would not deliver any of the results promised. It would be a failure of politics. We would find ourselves manifestly worse off with less influence and diminished standing in the world.

This is not pessimism from a remainer. This is now a matter of hard fact. Brexit can be one of two things. It can be a slow and steady evolution out of the EUs gravitational pull, or it can be a swift and sudden revolution. Pulling out of the single market would result in the latter landing us with an administrative, legal and technical bomb site to sort out. It would take decades and would cost us considerable amounts of money. Even bloodless revolutions are not pleasant things to have to endure. Those of my age have only ever known relative prosperity. Those who remember how things were would not be so keen to repeat the experience.

By remaining in the single market we can gradually "take back control" but it's not realistic to expect we can do it all at once and it is not something we should attempt without a period of reflection and analysis. Just taking back fishing and agriculture in the first instance is a big enough job and that's not going to be without complexity and compromise. The process is also going to require a good deal of cooperation from the EU. We are looking at a corporate de-merger on a massive scale and we are not remotely equipped to do it yet.

Pulling the plug on all of it seems superficially attractive and the temptation to let the chips fall where they may is huge - but this devil may care approach is not befitting of a leading developed nation. We don't just rip up contracts and treaties and it is for that reason Britain is an attractive place to do business. To commit ourselves to an act of self-harm would be an act of immature petulance. We'd be betting the farm on some idealistic libertarian fantasy that bears no relation to reality.

Some would like us to pull out of the single market out of pure unhinged hatred for the EU. This is something I understand given that it is a loathsome institution but we must be mindful that the referendum does not give us free licence to do as we please. Nearly half of the country voted to remain in the EU and so we very much do need a consensus approach on how we move forward. The tory hard right had their shot at running the Tory party and it kept them in opposition for a decade. The public do not want what they want - and neither do I.

Leaving the EU is a landmark event but there is no reason why we should rush it and there is no reason to inflict economic harm upon ourselves if we do not need to. Even by moving into the EEA we have ended the ratchet effect and we have broken the dominion of the EU over us. We will no longer be subordinate to the EU. It gives us enough to be getting on with. Trade policy alone is something that will take a herculean effort to understand and reintegrate into Westminster decision making and if the last few weeks have proved anything it is that, collectively, we haven't understood even the basics.

Leavers will have to accept that this process will not happen overnight and that the battle is not over. There are many more battles to fight. There will be forces pushing to prevent further separation. Some battles we will win, some battles they will win. And I won't always be on the side of the leavers. Some integration is beneficial and necessary. What we will get though is something nearly all of us wanted - a new relationship with the EU. We should not pander to those on the right who want no relationship at all.

We do not have the option of walking away from the EU without defining how we interact with it. Like it or not it exists and will be with us for some time to come. It is a fact of life and one we cannot ignore. We will need close and amicable EU relations and there will never come a time when we are not sending British officials to Brussels to negotiate how things get done.

The single market will give us a safe landing. That should be the first concern of all of us. Safeguarding our standard of living and our international reputation is paramount. In this there is no room for dogmatic ideologues. If they wanted Brexit some other way than how it is going to be then they should have had something more substantial in place than a set of flimsy marketing slogans. They shouldn't have lied their way through the referendum. They should have had a plan. If they now find themselves politically marginalised then it is a problem of their own making. "We don't need no stinking plan" they said. They can't say they weren't warned.

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