Monday, 20 February 2017

Brexit: painful but necessary

From the beginning I have been keen to downplay the economic benefits of Brexit. Increasingly though it looks like they are few - for the time being. It will take time to establish a new order to things and the transition will be expensive. There are days when I really do wonder if it is worth the bother. But then I remind myself that this isn't about economics. This is about power and the direction of travel.

It should not be forgotten that Brexit is about ending political union. The salami slicing of powers and the centralisation of authority is what makes Brexit necessary.

One of the reasons Brexit is so difficult to achieve from a legal and technical perspective is that power has been surrendered inside legal mechanisms designed to be permanent. Many EU laws give effect to centralised authorities which ultimately results in the phasing out of national institutions and authorities. In effect we have been sleepwalking into a federal Europe for more than forty years.

The natural destination for this is calls for more democratic legitimacy to which the response will be a directly elected presidency. But this is is where most people get it so wrong. The installation of voting rituals and elected offices should not be confused with democracy. Just look at the USA. Fifty two states dictated to by a corrupt Washington establishment, plunging the country into ever more debt, refusing to ever change direction. Democracy it is not.

And just because the EU clothes itself in the garb of liberal progressivism does not make it any less prone to imperialism or indeed military adventures. Libya and Ukraine are very much EU policy failures. Then when you scratch the surface of EU trade policy in Africa we find that it is every bit as destructive as that of the USA.

For decades now we have seen Washington pursuing pretty much the same failed foreign and economic policies, becoming ever more remote, ever more expensive and unable to resolve many of the corrosive policies that have undermined the USA as a first world nation. US education is utterly bankrupt and their prohibition policies have destroyed US cities while exponentially increasing the prison population.

Too much power is vested in the centre leading to destructive turf wars between central government agencies which are ever more cash hungry, wasteful and corrupt. Everybody knows the war on drugs has failed, everybody knows it is the reason Central America is still a corrupt basketcase and despite the mountains of evidence the people of the USA still cannot force the hand of their government to change policy. The lasting resentment ultimately ends up with scumbags like Donald Trump.

And for all that I despise Donald Trump, he will at least break a few things so that there can at least be some renewal - much like a forest fire. The effect though will only be temporary as the power still resides in Washington.

For whatever good the USA has served, the current model is over. America is broken, the system doesn't work and American power has jumped the shark. It is reckless, blundering and incapable of change. So why do we want that for Europe?

I now take the view that America can only really prosper once more if it breaks away from Washington rule and restores the powers of the States. The whole federal system needs a wrecking ball taking to it. Beyond the mechanisms that uphold rights enshrined by the constitution the central US government needs to be pruned to the bare bones.

In a world that is gradually becoming a global community of powers, we must have systems and rules but we cannot put the power in the hands of the few. It doesn't matter if those few are well intentioned. Incompetence and hubris is as destructive as malice and power does not always stay in the hands of the well intentioned.

We should never lose sight of the fact that, for all the economic perks of the EU, it was intended from the beginning that it would be a supreme government for Europe. In that it should be noted that the bigger a state the more remote it is and the less responsive it is. Ultimately it becomes a corrupt behemoth that sucks the vitality from public life - and in its own way powerless to reform itself.

I want to see a Europe of peaceful cooperation among nations. Central diktats are not cooperation and for all the voting rituals and pieces of democratic furniture like the EU parliament, it is not, and never will be, a democracy.

Those administrations who signed away powers to the EU did so in the belief that they could prevent war in Europe. Except that a government which cannot and will not change makes war all the more likely. It won't be a war of armies, just a low grade state of permanent civil unrest and decline. We can see it happening in the USA. New York City maybe the gleaming jewel but everywhere else you see systemic decay, poverty and an increasingly stagnating economy.

Europe is already struggling. There are internal stresses and strains made worse by the global migration crisis. We have seen only sticking plasters and gestures from the EU - which is crippled by bureaucratic inertia. We need an urgent response to a global economic slowdown and yet what do we see? Prevarication, delay and the same old thinking.

Many people I know voted to leave the EU in fear that it would collapse. My fear is that it won't. Power is never given up easily and the EU won't go without being shoved. It will linger for a century, confiscating more power as it goes, depriving nation states of the means and authority to tackle their own problems as they see fit.

We are told that Brexit means a decade of uncertainty. That much is true, but we should never lose sight of the fact that mainland Europe is in serious trouble and has been for the last decade. Paris has never been more dangerous in my lifetime, German cities are rotting and the Eastern Europe is socially regressing. The EU offers no solutions and all the while it pours yet more petrol on the bonfire.

Britain has a rosy view of the EU, or at least the remainers do. They see the EU through the distorted prism of prosperity. The reason the UK prospered while being a member of the EU is because we have made structural economic reforms and taken our environment seriously. It is we who did that, not the EU. The EU could affect the same changes elsewhere but it won't in fear of a populist revolt - because mainland Europe is economically and culturally different.

The result is a state of limbo where le grand project sits there in an incomplete state, unable to secure a mandate to go further and struggling to hold the mandate it has - which was never freely granted to begin with.

It is sometimes difficult to see the woods for the trees. All this talk of the mechanics of leaving can make us forget why we do this. There are few direct economic benefits to leaving. At best we can afford ourselves a few more tools, but how well that pans out depends on how we use them. There are no guarantees. But we did not do this for cheaper goods. Here there was a principle at stake which transcends the economic.

Leaving the EU does not bring about that democracy we strive for. It is only a stepping stone and a safeguard to ensure things can get no worse. We still have a long road to travel and there is much we need to do to reform our domestic politics. We could have rearranged the institutions while being a member of the EU but if those institutions are subordinate to the EU and not the people then there is no point.

We should be under no illusions that there are sunlit uplands to Brexit. We will pay a high price for having entered into irreversible agreements - but we do this to ensure that the power stays within our reach and ultimately remains accountable to us. These are principles for which men have laid down their lives. We would do so again. I am not, therefore, all too concerned if it means paying a bit more for groceries. A peaceful exit from a failed project may have its costs but I like the alternatives a whole lot less.

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