Friday, 5 May 2017

There is nothing to be gained from bombastic table-thumping

Personally I can't see anything wrong with the decision to leave the EU. Britain as an island is sufficiently different not to need hyper harmonisation and the unification of social policy can only ever lead to more power flowing away from the people themselves. With that goes the ability to respond and adapt to changes in the global marketplace and much else. It can only ever be good for UK democracy is more decisions are taken closer to home.

In fact, all but the most hardened europhile can see the yawning chasm that the EU euphemistically calls a "democratic deficit". Even on the remain side the EU has its vocal critics. Many just see the EU as one of those things we must tolerate. Further to this one commonly given reason for voting to remain was not out of any particular love for the EU, rather it would embolden the hard right lunatics and put someone like Gove in Johnson in charge.

I always took the view that this was a very short-sighted approach because we do have elections and we can dispense with our politicians. Brexit, however, was a one shot deal. Had we missed this chance we might not have ever got another. That is not to say the reasoning is not justified. I lean toward conservatism myself but the very worst people in politics are those men of only one or two books. Dogmatists and ideologues. They can do a lot of damage in a short time.

I was, therefore, relieved to see that Gove and Johnson took themselves out of the running and even more so when Leadsom caved in. It seemed that we would be spared the worst of the Brexiteer mentality. Theresa May, as a remainer, seemed like a stabilising influence who could bring at least some gravitas to the role. Just goes to show how wrong you can be in this game. We are now charging headlong into Brexit with a total amateur in charge with only a minuscule understanding of the risks.

It is still widely believed in the cabinet that waking away is a viable proposition and that we can trade on WTO terms alone. Absolutely nobody with a grasp of the basics believes this. To be immediately excluded from European markets without any kind of agreement throws the entire system into chaos. As bad as that it, it all but rules out any possibility of an open relationship with the EU in the future. It may hurt the EU but we most certainly come off worst.

What Brexiteers do not seem to be able to grasp is that the EU relationship goes way beyond matters of trade and inter-EU cooperation in a number of areas adds to our overall GDP in ways that are impossible to fully measure. Freedom of movement is one such aspect. It adds value.

I have never been under any illusions about Brexit. From the beginning I stated on this blog that Brexit would likely mean a hit to trade and a period of recession. Moreover, how well we do after the fact depends entirely on the quality of our trade policy. The scope for trading internationally is still considerable but the aim of Brexit should be to enhance that trade in order to augment rather than substitute EU trade. This point is lost on our Brexiteers.

It therefore beggars belief that some would seek a showdown with Brussels over the exit settlement. We won the referendum. We are leaving the EU. Eventually we will stop making substantial payments to the EU and we will draw down our liabilities. My question is why there is a such a rush? When we are seeking to safeguard up to £240bn per annum, why are we quibbling over the settlement which is money we would pay anyway?

Some have argued that we are not legally obliged to pay anything and in view of our previous payments we are not even morally obliged. Let's assume that is true for a moment. Does it not make sense to ensure the normal functioning of the EU for the period that we are still linked with it? Assuming we take the fabrication of the Financial Times at face value, it's a reasonable price for the continuance of good relations and as matter of self interest if we want a comprehensive relationship after we have left.

Further to this, as far as the whole Brexit process goes I cannot think of anything that matters less than the exit settlement. There are bigger rows to come over the level of participation in the single market where we could potentially lose out on billions in trade in services at the cost of thousands of jobs. Now is the time for measured rhetoric, choosing to take the high ground and picking the battles that matter.

It seems that Brexieers have lost sight of what really matters. It has always been a bone of contention for eurosceptics that we are a lead contributor and that which we do pay is often wasted or stolen but that was never the central issue. The core issues have always been sovereignty, democracy and the ability to choose our own trading partnerships so why make the settlement the central issue?

Were we haggling with an Arab trader over the price of a carpet where you can walk away and find another seller we could afford to play fast and loose with our rhetoric. Here though there is only one seller and we are the ones with the greatest need. In this there is no call for this to be a biff-bam showdown. There is nothing to be gained by belligerence.

In the end, about half the country voted to remain in the EU and the majority of us still want to see open relations with the continent. That puts the hard Brexiteers in the distinct minority. There is simply no commercial or electoral advantage to belligerence. Further still, with the complete implosion of Ukip, the Conservative party has never been safer. Bombastic table thumping has only short term electoral advantage. Why be so reckless?

Brexit in its own right has huge consequences. Even with a good deal Britain is going to have to pull its socks up to compete. Enhanced trade with the rest of the world is not automatic and by no means a certainty. If that much is to go well then we need to safeguard our reputation as a nations which upholds its obligations and respects the treaties it signs. It should also be noted that a lot of international companies do business in the EU via the UK. If we self-sabotage then in turn we end up harming our relations with them.

Our main bone of contention with the EU is resolved by leaving it. To my mind that is the faster route to improved attitudes to Europe and the EU. Brexit should be the vehicle with which we revise and reform European relations and it would be foolish to waste the opportunity. Acrimony serves nobody and if May has even a scintilla of diplomatic nous then she will choose the high road whatever the provocation. Self-discipline is not a weakness. She needs to pick her battles well. If we wanted clownish antics we could have voted for Farage.

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