Sunday, 14 January 2018

Getting Nowhere

There are some Brexit articles on Google when I type in "Brexit". One might have thought, therefore, that there would be sufficient material for a blogger to pass comment on. I suppose one could wade into the debate over a second referendum, but what is there really to be said that has not already been said, and why would one bother when a second referendum simply is not going to happen?

The opposition leader doesn't want one, the government doesn't want one, about half the population doesn't want one, and the window for holding one closes by the day. It's only even a topic of conversation because there is presently nothing else happening save for a few ill chosen remarks by Farage, which largely go to demonstrate how little anyone cares what he says - save for our media whose news values are entirely tone deaf.

One might then choose to comment on Corbyn insisting that the UK must leave the single market, but has also said the UK would "obviously" have to be in "a customs union". It is apparent that neither he nor Andrew Neil have a functioning definition of either nor understand the utility of them. Depressing though that may be, this is also not news.

Meanwhile, though some sense is being spoken behind the scenes in the DExEU select committee, it's still at Janet and John level and nothing we haven't been over a dozen times before. None of it seems to penetrate the noise of the mainstream debate which is still struggling with the basics. I'm still having to confront all of the usual tiresome arguments in respect of the EEA and I am very very close to losing the plot completely. 

A point lost on seemingly everyone in the EEA debate is that Norway adopts a lot of the rules without contest because it's a small country whose capital city is smaller than Leeds and lacks the domestic capacity/technical expertise to pushback in any meaningful way.

Where it does have considerable clout is in oil and petrochemicals - but not financial services because it does have much of a financial services sector to speak of compared with, say, London. For the more arcane stuff, there is no point in developing domestic rules. It's duplication.

There have been examples of clashes and that is where Norway will fight its corner, usually through the EEA secretariat, and the Efta court as a last resort. In this it is listened to by way of building up capital by being an early adopter of technical rules. There are some instances where Norway has attempted to delay or stall implementation, where it has been overruled and it probably loses most cases brought against it - but you have to see it in the context of the process.

These sorts of complaints only ever go to the Efta court if they cannot be resolved through the EEA secretariat or the various joint committees. The latter is where most of the battles are fought. Norway might still end up adopting the framework of rules but with a number of exceptions which are then added to the system of annexes. That is why no two EEA members have the exact same relationship with the EU.

In terms of how many cases Norway loses, the "score" is often measured only in context of the Efta court. That gives the impression of Norway as a passive rule taker with no defences, but that really is only the most superficial analysis of how the relationship works.

Lazy mischaracterisations of the EEA relationship only really serve the hard Brexit cause. It's an intricate process of codetermination, and the UK as a larger more complex economy would put up more of a fight - and more often. This also says nothing of the Efta court process and the politics therein, nor indeed what happens in the technical committees and standards bodies. The continued assertion that Norway has no say is a lie, and misses the point that we are not Norway.

All of these arguments, however, are increasingly redundant as the debate is regressing even further, with the stupidity of our commentariat resetting the clock to zero every time the subject is raised. Our media has no institutional memory. There is zero chance of developing the debate when there is still no understanding of the terminology. Until that situation is resolved (fat chance) we will continue to bunder between unforced errors while the EU runs rings around us. 

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