Thursday, 27 April 2017

Brexit is in the long term interests of democracy

The slogan "taking back control" is one often scoffed at by remainers. In their eyes we never ceded sovereignty and were free to govern any which way we choose. In strict terms the UK was still sovereign in that we could at any time have decided to leave the EU. That though is not the popular understanding of sovereignty and to pretend that the UK has not ceded considerable control is dishonest.

Though the EU is not established as an executive entity comparable with our national government it still has the means of controlling its activity. More specifically, by way of directives, decisions and court rulings it sets the parameters for our government to work inside. In this the EU works toward the establishment of frameworks, systems and conventions that bind us and limit our options.

For trade there are many good reasons why that is necessary. If you want the benefits of free trade the it stands to reason that a degree of systems integration is necessary and there needs to be a shared approach to governance. You then need common rules for the administration of governance systems. In order to effect good policy you need good data and that means having systems in place for the collection and study of it. In all areas of cooperation we cede some sovereignty in exchange for the better functioning of trade.

The complaint in this is that we are drifting more toward a state of dictatorial technocracy. This is not an unreasonable complaint. Very often we find policy is designed by vested interests and the outcome is very often an imperfect compromise which can run counter to its stated objectives and is difficult, sometimes impossible, to reform.

In many areas we have unnecessarily fetishise sovereignty. Certainly Ukip and the tabloids have some curious bouts of histrionics over the most absurd things - often related to standards and what is perceived to be micromanagement. All of this adds to the perception of a creaking bureaucracy that makes ever more petty and meddling rules seemingly for its own sake.

There are, though, increasingly aggressive moves by the EU to control policies far beyond the scope of trade. There are a number of agendas, some benign, some not, driving EU policy where they begin to tread on the territory of what should be entirely a domestic affair. In the pursuit of a social Europe with uniform rights throughout there have been moves to standardise labour laws in conjunction with freedom of movement. This often over looks the many cultural differences and differing attitudes to work - which can vary between sectors.

This is where the EU becomes intrusive. Policy is increasingly decided by courts rather than parliaments and those decisions are permanent and beyond the reach of democracy. It also means policy is slow to adapt. Much of the ideas enshrined in EU law pre-date the internet and the the sweeping changes in the world of work.

This is ultimately down to the ideology of the EU which believes in ever closer union, working toward a uniform government for Europe with the same rights throughout. In spirit that sounds superficially appealing but that mentality ultimately undermines the ability of people to choose for themselves and in so doing makes politics redundant. Ideas and social agendas being life in Geneva, pass through Brussels and then into UK law. This is top down politics.

This also has implications for competitiveness. The most productive economy is the one most able to adapt. This though runs counter to the EU that there should be no inter-EU competition and that there should be a level playing field. As much as anything this is likely to stifle innovation.

Were the EU a simple trade bloc then it would confine itself to only those areas necessary to enhance trade. Instead though the EU increasingly legislates over matters where there are no transboundary concerns where often local decision making and administration would be preferable and superior. The EU targets culture often leads to bad policy overriding local decisions.

In this our own government is often just as much to blame for the maladministration but the driver is still EU policy. This arrangement allows the EU to scapegoat national governments and vice versa. Nobody takes responsibility for policy failings. This is what we leavers mean when we say we want to restore accountability. The removal of the EU removes the go-to excuse for our own politicians.

What so offends the remainers is that sovereignty and democracy are overrated. The notion that people can decide through their own respective governments what the right balance is between the employer and employee is too dangerous and must be enshrined in EU law beyond the reach of liberalising conservatives. It is born of an inherent mistrust of democracy and a lack of faith in people to fight for and conserve their own rights. Little wonder that unions have come obsolete in the EU order.

In this respect the remainer position is typically left wing authoritarianism. Their aspirations are manifested in EU social policy and they view it as largely benign. Brexit overturns that order and makes these such laws once again to democratic challenge. This is absolutely what they do not want. We can see this in the remainer rhetoric when they list the many rights enshrined by the EU? Who but a heartless Tory could object to more paid paternity leave etc. This a typically childish left wing view of the world.

One such example is the minimum wage? Who could object to that? Well they kept pushing it up and now supermarket tills are almost entirely automated and that wipes out a lot of socially useful low skill part time work. The average leftist is pathologically incapable of grasping the concept of unintended consequences. And that is one other unwholesome aspect of EU membership. It means that those areas of government not constrained by EU rule are concerned with mopping up the unintended consequences rather than making preventative policies and devising workable solutions.

In this, we see that the ethos of the EU doesn't work. The notoriously militant French workers don;t think the EU social agenda goes far enough and seek ever more protectionism for their industries where as the Brits tend to be a little more enterprising and open to the the world. I might venture that has something to do with being an island and a maritime nation.

The question we have now though is where we wish to redraw the lines between sovereignty and free trade. The ultra Brexiteers seek their holy grail of absolute sovereignty - which is totally unreasonable and completely unworkable It comes at the expense of European trade. £240bn at last count. The process of Brexit therefore is a reappraisal of what we consider an acceptable trade off.

The assumption among ultra Brexiteers is that free of the EU we are free to legislate as we please without consideration to the EU and that we can be a buccaneering free trade pioneer. This overlooks the fact that the modern global trade arena is just as much rules based and the EU as our largest single trading partner is nearest regulatory superpower. There is no free trade without a degree of cooperation and compromise. In that regard there is no absolute sovereignty either.

What we need, therefore, is a framework for maximum cooperation and free trade with the EU while restoring some of the demarcation lines. In that regard there is one such mechanism. The EEA agreement between Efta and EU. Otherwise known as single market membership. Though it does not give us total sovereignty (a wholly implausible ambition) it does at the very least give us the right to refuse EU laws where we deem the penalty worth the sacrifice.

It is not the day to day regulation of trade we need concern ourselves with. Regulation is a fact of life and it oils the wheels of trade. Brexiteers have fetishised it over the years when really it is EU and the various directives that cage our democracy. Since EU regulation is based on global standards, where there would be little room for divergence it should not be a consideration for Brexit. More to the point there is no appetite in the business world to radically alter the regulatory regime. Imperfect as it is, it is at the very least stable.

I take the view that Brexiteers have been fighting for this outcome for so long they have forgotten what it is that really bothers them about the EU to the point where they have become irrational, fixating on the largely irrelevant minutia. Worse still they have bought into the delusion that Brexit of itself somehow brings about economic revival in spite of there being no compelling evidence that speaks to that.

All we can really aim for is a change in the nature of our relationship with the EU where we remove the EU as the supreme authority. That does not and should not rule out the possibility of economic integration. It just reaffirms the people of the United Kingdom as the supreme authority rather than the Commission and the ECJ.

This is a point lost on the hard Brexiteers. They seem to think rowing back on economic integration is a requirement of the Brexit mandate. It isn't. But then they are also motivated by certain free trade delusions based on a criminally simplistic understanding of how trade and the modern world works.

This is why this general election is such a depressing choice. On the one hand we have those who would force us to stick with the antidemocratic status quo and those who would unwittingly do untold damage to the UK economy. I think I will be sitting this one out. It is ironic that I should have campaigned so hard in the name of democracy to find that on this occasion my vote is totally useless.

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