Sunday, 30 April 2017

Brexit was always inevitable

We have always been sovereign. Or so people keep saying. The word sovereignty is one so overused as to become meaningless. We have been sovereign in that the powers we have transferred to the EU so that it may act on our behalf could have at any point been revoked by our parliament. Similarly our government has always been free to disregard ECJ rulings and EU directives. Other member states do. That, however, is not how we choose to play it.

The reason the UK has soft power and a solid reputation on the international stage is because we, as a rule, stick to our treaty obligations. That much is in the DNA of our government. Pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be kept). So in a very real sense there has been a transfer of power. What has driven us to Brexit is that this transfer has not taken place with the consent of the people.

We have heard from remainers that the mandate for leaving the EU is not sufficiently large enough to make such a major constitutional change. I happen to disagree in that the twenty seven per cent who elected not to vote agree to abide with the outcome. What is relevant though is that the assertion at least acknowledges that Brexit is very much a constitutional change. But then so was ratifying Lisbon which was never even put to a vote. For all the shrill whining about the £350m lie, the then Labour government claimed that the Lisbon treaty was a mere tidying up exercise. A bigger lie has never been told in British politics.

The ratification of Lisbon was enough to infuriate those of us who wanted a referendum and it has been considered an act of defiance against the people ever since. Those who would now consider themselves remainers made no real issue of it because the EU has not been a topic of interest until now. In this it is worth noting that the public had already endured some years of "Teflon Tony" - a government that famously did whatever it pleased knowing the opposition was no threat to them.

This really underscores the sentiment behind Brexit in that when a government is particularly strong any semblance of democracy goes out of the window. In that respect our own system is fifty per cent of the problem.

We need not go over old ground in exploring the social dimensions behind Brexit. By now we are all familiar with the widening economic and cultural gap between London and the regions. As much as anything Brits have been shocked with the pace of change and that it happened without their consent. Had there been any public consultation about freedom of movement it is likely the public would have declined. Since then we have become used to seeing Romanian beggars camped in city gardens and on the pavements.

Some argue that the UK had sufficient powers to have done something it. And that is something you will hear from remainers on any given subject. Sometimes that is true, sometimes it isn't. Were you to believe remainers the EU is an entirely benevolent entity that doesn't stop us dong anything. But let us suppose they are right. Why didn't the government do anything? Incompetence? Systemic bureaucracy? Lack of due care? All of the above?

Well, it doesn't really matter does it? The fact is that our own government is too dysfunctional to effectively manage the consequences of its commitments. Commitments it continues to make in our name without our consent.

Similarly you might well agree with the EU Habitats Directive and its broad aim to restore wetlands and hedgerows. My own view is that government goes awry the moment you introduce targets. Consequently there are a number of entirely pointless initiatives and in some cases disastrous attempts to implement EU policy which run entirely counter to the intent. 

So what is to blame? Us or the EU? Well, that's not really the question is it? The real question is whether our government is likely to improve to a point where the implementation of EU systems and directives does not cause so much damage. I think a clear majority would agree that it isn't. So really as much as Brexit is a rejection of EU rule, it is also an admission that we are not capable of adequately meeting our obligations. That is not to say that other member states are since many do not even bother which is why there are dead zones along the Greek coast. EU policy is not going to be so unpopular in member states when there is no real attempt to implement it.

And that brings us to the other question of what our government is supposed ot be doing. How much resource do we give to remodelling UK governance and complying with EU law and how much do we give to, you know, running the country? This is another legacy reason for Brexit in that sector after sector is tasked at their own expense with compliance very often with out the necessary clarifications and justifications. What we then find is we often spend a lot meddling with things that worked for no good reason and very often, legally, entirely unnecessarily.

So to an extent, remainers are absolutely right when they say the EU is unfairly blamed for a lot of things. The cause is proximate. There are examples of UK implementation that even has the European Commission utterly baffled. So at some point you have to ask if carrying on in the same way is any longer tenable. I don't think it is.

One area of policy that fits the scenario I outline here is the energy sector where there are multiple political agendas imposed on our national grid where the end result is a glorious pig's ear. We have quotas for renewables which mandates enormous investment which in turn demands massive spending on the grid in order to cope with it. Notionally wind should be an inexpensive source of energy but when you consider the full system costs it has been a singularly boneheaded endeavour which has diverted investment away from more practical solutions.

Ideally energy should be produces as close to the point of consumption as possible. Instead we are plastering the wilderness and remote seas with wind turbines necessitating hundreds of miles of transmission cables, scarring landscapes, disturbing wildlife and adding massive costs to our bills at a time when we can least afford it. Worse still this mentality locks us into the old fashioned national grid concept. Part of the reason for this is, for vanity's sake, the EU has sought to create an EU wide supergrid. I have reservations in terms of energy security just to start with. Give our government the opportunity to offshore energy production and they will.

Increasingly what we are finding is that there are only so many ways that privatisation and market dynamics can brig down costs. The present system is largely dependent on bring down administrative costs which the internet has done for us anyway. What we also find is that while people can switch suppliers, very often they don't. With all the horror tales of being sent final demands and surprise charges people are naturally risk averse. More to the point people don't care choice in utilities. Consumers don't want to think about these things. Market competition just isn't going to work. In some ways this is resolved by the use of smart meters but that is yet anther whole system cost the bill payer will have to shoulder. We are a way off it in terms of connectivity anyway.

In just about every area of governance we find that though the EU is not issuing direct diktats per se, it most certainly does create the frameworks in which policy must be devised which prevents us from taking the most cost effective routes. Often this is in conjunction with the climate change agenda which is often at odds with good sense.

Whether or not climate change is real is really besides the point. There is an entirely justifiable suspicion that it is being used as a means by which to confiscate power from the people and rule without their consent. Some argue that even democracy itself can and should be sacrificed in the name of saving the planet but I will always disagree on that point - not least since those who accumulate the power are not in the least bit interested in saving the planet. The game is the same as it ever has been. The accumulation of all the power for the benefit of the privileged few. 

We have come to a point in the development of our society where the old structures and institutions no longer serve us. For right or wrong, working to a Europe-wide development agenda doesn't seem to work. We have reached the limits of what we can do within the constraints created for us. We see from the terminal decay in Westminster that our present system of governance is on its last legs and Brexit beautifully exemplifies the lack of knowledge and talent within Westminster.

Since elections don't really do anything and since we are never going to get politicians who adequately engage in the issues, instead chasing every fad that passes and giving the serious issues only superficial attention, I would argue that we cannot afford not to have a substantial re-ordering of politics and policy. In this, remainers should take stock. The exact same incompetence that is presently executing Brexit is the exact same incompetence executing everything else.

In this, though, it would be a mistake to assume Brexit resolves very much. It removes some of the barriers to reform but it's really up to the voters to go the rest of the way and break the grip of Westminster. The resultant train-wreck from Brexit should leave nobody nobody in any doubt that our method of government is irredeemably broken.

In that respect you can almost see why some Brexiteers are salivating at the thought of the Brexit trainwreck being as cataclysmic as possible. A softer Brexit has the potential to remove the revolutionary potential of Brexit. But let's get real here. There is democratic reform and there is self-immolation. As much as I am keen on change Britain still has to make its way in the world and the hard Brexit so craved by Brexiteers would result in economic harm of such magnitude that we would be forced to take corrective measures that put us more on the EU leash than ever.

Ultimately Britain does need a bit of a reboot. Politically we've gone bad and the status quo is not delivering. The established of more than forty years has now hit a plateau. The growth can only creep up by tiny margins. If we want to see substantial growth then we need a period of re-imagining, innovation and disruption. Brexit more than any other political option is likely to see re-ordering of supply chains which will in turn create a number of opportunities which then lead to new inventions and new political ideas.

The metaphor I use to explain it is that economies are like a game of musical chairs. People move around until the musics stops and everyone settles. There is no movements while the music has stopped and those who have chairs keep them and those who don't remain standing. Politically and economically the music has stopped for Britain. Supply chains are set in stone, political orthodoxies are established and those left standing have been left standing for a very long time and their legs are tired. Brexit starts the music once more.

It is easy to get caught up in the mass hysteria of Brexit, and sometimes it feels like we are staring into an abyss. Whatever happens, though, a new order will emerge because it always does. What that order looks like nobody can say. It is all still to be fought for. As is proper in any democracy. Most likely we will take an economic hit. That much is to be expected. What many fail to account for though is that the UK is very often at its best in those such times and that is when we see cultural revolutions that inspire the world.

My final thought on this is that throughout the ages there has been a struggle toward full democracy. Modern British history has us at the forefront of that very struggle. In respect of that I view the EU as a temporary mishap where for a time that process went into reverse with power increasingly travelling away from the people rather than toward it. In this, Britain is once again leading the way in reclaiming that power. The mistake though would be to lose momentum and leave the power in Westminster. As much as we are taking back control from Brussels, we must also take it back from our politicians so that they may never do this to us again.

Brexit is ultimately the consequence of a political class at odds with its electorate. It has been working to an agenda not derived of the people to an alien system of values. It has been done in haste and without consent. It has been done through deception and connivance. We should not, therefore, be surprised when the public turn on them when given the chance. Now that it has happened, there are those who wish it would all go away so we can return to that state of blissful indifference, but it is that exact state of indifference and permissiveness that has brought us here to begin with. Had there been this level of political engagement hitherto now then we wouldn't be in this position now.

Whatever happens in the coming years it should not be forgotten that a goodly part of why Brexit is so harmful is because we have integrated ourselves politically to such an extent where there was never any easy means of reversing it. That is not by accident. This is what our rulers intended. Even Article 50, a dogs dinner of a law, was never intended to be used. If you want someone to blame, blame the hubristic politicians who conspired to do this to us in the first place. They thought we would come to love their technocratic utopia if they could hold power just long enough for the opposition to die off. That was all in the plan. Be thankful that some of us were watching them closely while you couldn't have cared less. Welcome to Brexit folks. One way or another, you earned it.

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