Thursday, 20 September 2018

Why we are in this mess

The greatest mistake for this government was to ever believe it was entering a negotiation with the EU. David Cameron proved in his attempt at renegotiation that the principles of the EU are inviolable and if that was true for a member in 2015 then it is true now for a soon to be ex member. It is a creature of rules and systems and you only really get to choose your mode of interface with it.

In designing a plan you have to understand what the respective systems are and why they exist - and when you do it becomes clear why the EU is not open to compromise. The single market is essentially a firewall protecting a regulatory ecosystem designed to raise standards and maintain uniformity throughout for the free exchange of goods and services. Divergence very obviously must incur penalties.

Once you acknowledge this reality you have a better stab at designing a plan. When the EU says no cherrypicking it means no cherrypicking and it pays to take them at their word. For whatever exceptions we can point to they are fudges and workarounds but nothing that could ever serve as the mainstay of a UK-EU relationship.

The next jobs is to look at what we actually need. Since much of our trade is actually a product of the single market made possible only through common regulations and frictionless borders it tends to point to the fact that an FTA is insufficient. That leaves us with the EEA and not much else.

If you are a Tory policy wonk, however, and a superior breed, none of this matters at all. The foreigners will bend to our will and when they say no cherrypicking they don't really mean it. Of course they will give us a deal and of course they will let us do as we please. Why wouldn't they?

So on the one hand we have supremely arrogant Tories and on the other a clueless media only too happy to regurgitate the mythology about the EEA spread by the various remain inclined think tanks. The well is poisoned and we are imbued with the belief that EU and international law can take a back seat for the sole benefit of Britain.

But then there's the politics. Theresa May is a creation of EU era politics where politics isn't actually in charge of very much and that which does function only does so because the running of it has been farmed out to EU regulated quangos. Rarely are there decisions to be made of existential importance and all that matters is preserving party unity. Enter Chequers.

As it happens, as a Brexiter I could tolerate the Chequers proposal. It's more than an FTA but less than the EEA and it attempts to reconcile the border dilemmas. The problem, however, is that it pays no regard to anything said by Brussels and it violates the EU prime directive of preserving the sovereignty and integrity of its internal market.

May has attempted to deliver regulatory sovereignty and frictionless trade which simply is not possible. She has attempted to address the issues but is primarily concerned with keeping her backbenchers at bay. She has failed miserably. Chequers is little more than a triangulation between her self-imposed red lines and the problems at hand while trying her best not to lose the next election and to keep her job until Brexit day at least.

Now that Chequers has been torpedoed yet again May really ought to go back to the drawing board - but she won't because she has nowhere to go. The EEA is her only way out but she has soiled her own nest in claiming that the Norway option requires a customs union while accepting all the rules.

This mythology surrounding the EEA is about as old as Brexit itself - with these myths mainly spread by remainers such as Charles Grant, Jonathan Portes and other such pathological liars. It is a mark of their success that this mythology should have been adopted by the Brexit ultras post referendum. This, though, would not have happened had we a functioning media.

Being that the media no longer retains in house knowledge it looks to quotable sources whereupon it takes on trust that which it is told by those with prestige. "Research fellows" or professors are taken far more seriously than anyone ever should. There is no attempt to verify what they say - especially if they are remainers and there has never been a substantive debate as to how we could use the EEA to great effect. Even recent converts to the cause like Nick Boles have got it badly wrong.

With Chequers now lying in tatters, remainers will be more keen to suppress any debate because this impasse suits their narrative that Brexit simply isn't deliverable. The ultra Brexiters will play the same game because the "intransigent EU" narrative works in their favour with many now believing the EU will refuse any proposal.

More astute observers now believe as I do, that Mrs May has known for some time that Chequers is a lame duck but is going through the motions to at least keep up the pretence of a sincere effort. This is very likely theatricals and May has likely given up any hope of reconciling the demands of the EU and those of her party.

Chequers is ultimately the product of a refusal to face reality but also a nexus of Tory advisers who haven't understood the brief and think they know better than everybody else. Even the centrist think tanks have wasted our time floating third way proposals largely for self-gratification and publicity. Anything but address the issues as we find them.

When we do leave without a deal not one of these individuals or organisations will take responsibility for their misdeeds and self-indulgence. We will see a souring of relations with the EU as the entire Westminster establishment attempt to blame the EU when the EEA was there for the taking the whole time. Brexit didn't have to be an omnishambles. The pain we will go through will more be a consequence of Tory arrogance than leaving the EU.

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