Monday 29 October 2018

Brexit is the political enema we've been waiting for.

Britain is having a crisis of competence. It has not understood Brexit on any level. The establishment still does not know how to respond to it, it does not know how to relate to the public and it has no idea how to reconcile the dilemmas of Brexit.

In a way, though, the EU has bungled this too. We are seeing a certain ruthless competence from the EU but it is only skin deep. It is as much a prisoner of its own rules as we are. It is a less urgent matter for then in that the rules serve the EU's interests. To a point. They safeguard the EU's legal order and they ensure the EU comes out on top in this negotiation. That is why its denizens will follow the rules to the letter. It does not do creativity or pragmatism.

There is a cost to this though. It no longer feels like there is an active negotiation in play and proceedings are eerily quiet. It could be that both sides has resigned themselves to there being no deal. Should that be the case then not only does the economic relationship disintegrate, so too do western European relations. It's seriously bad news for Britain and it's not good for the EU either.

In respect of its own values it will have failed to show regard to its broader objectives of peace and stability in Europe. Its slavish devotion to procedure has locked in an inescapable course and even though the fault lies squarely with the UK government, that should have been seen early on as a point of failure for both sides. A broken and impoverished Britain is not at all in the regional interest.

The first mistake in my view was the failure to realise that Article 50 was inadequate to the task and following it to the letter, creating a very obviously flawed framework for talks, has tainted the entire proceedings. It has shown a similar lack of sensitivity to the Northern Ireland situation as it did with Ukraine. The EU is certainly not acting with respect to the sovereign integrity of the UK.

I think that can be said objectively even in light of the UK having made every avoidable error possible from its failure to plan to its failure to understand the process and the EU point of view. As much as the UK has failed to appreciate how the EU is constrained by its own rules the Brexit process has also highlighted how the mere existence of the WTO limits the scope for creative solutions.

Much of the problem stems from the fact that both sides have viewed Brexit as an administrative chore instead of an opportunity. The EU has long sought to normalise its external relations and consolidate its neighbourhood policy, meanwhile Switzerland is seeking a consolidating treaty.

Being that it is in the interests of the EU to keep the UK in the European community of nations, here was a golden opportunity to reform and modernise the EEA. It would have meant an intergovernmental conference on what to do about freedom of movement, and there could have been a working compromise, but instead, knowing that ending freedom of movement was a driver of Brexit, the EU has displayed a certain petulance in doubling down on its unwillingness to open the books on it.

The UK has been similarly myopic in failing to realise that many of the limitations experienced by Norway in the EEA would simply not apply, not least because the combined weight of Efta with the UK is a power in its own right. This is why I am even less imbued with Nick Boles's "Norway then Canada" nonsense, in that if Britain is taking such a step then it needs to be a full and enthusiastic participant of Efta rather than poking around with subclauses looking to use it as a halfway house. The UK has completely failed to think about Brexit in geostrategic terms and where it will best exert its own influence.

Similarly the EU has failed to appreciate that the UK operating its own trade policy is potentially a wildcard asset to them, where the agility of the UK means it can act as a forerunner to do all the things the inherent internal conflicts on the EU prevent. I am perhaps stretching it there but the point is that collectively we should have been looking at how to take a negative and turn it into a positive.

To a large extent, though, these what-ifs are largely redundant since we are in fact looking at a Europe in an advanced state of political decay. Though the UK's incompetence is exemplary, I have a hunch that Germany is living on borrowed time and shortly after Mrs Merkel departs, Germany will be floundering for a new settlement of its own. Without German coherence the European project is in trouble, not least since Italy is rocking the boat.

But what of the saviour Macron, the darling of the neo-Blarites? I'm certainly not qualified to speak on French politics but I think there too lies a political reckoning in waiting. This brings the future of EU integration into broader question. The EU has been keen to put a brave face on Brexit, keen to present a new energy (in trade especially) but internal stresses will put the kibosh on any radical initiatives. It may well be that the EU has simply run out of steam.

The European project was born to a more coherent age where we knew who the enemy was and the old orders were not threatened by social media and migration pressures. There was also a kinship born of the Second World War and a spirit of reconciliation. To a large extent that still exists on the continent but with every new generation as the memories fade, so does the sense of European purpose and the EU struggles to find relevance.

It is interesting that when I now look at generic eurosceptic tract, much of it pertains to what the EU has allegedly done to Greece or historical arguments most of which is not relevant to Britain or even topical. Even as a committed leaver I find most anti-EU material to be pretty thin gruel. Remainers would probably make the same arguments - that we are not in Schengen, not in the Euro and have a number of opt outs from fiscal governance thus there is no real need to leave. But by that same token, I still see no reason to stay in that most of the EU's problems are not our problems - many of which are of their own making.

The EU, though, definitely does have a collective interest where Russia, Syria and Turkey is concerned for obvious reasons. Accuse me if you will of being inward looking in saying that these acute issues for the UK, but I am generally of the view that our intervention is not welcome, not necessary and, most of all, not useful. Perhaps it comes with being an island and an anglophone maritime nation that we have a more global outlook. Marrying us to the EU and winding down our global participation was simply never going to work.

It is not, therefore, just the UK that stands at a crossroads. Much is going to depend on whether we have a deal with the EU and what form that will take, but the political decline exposed by Brexit might very well begin to show symptoms on the continent in due course. Germany is subject to many of the same pressures that contributed to the leave vote and they have their own version of Ukip. After a long period of stable and competent rule, Germany could very well struggle to hold it together.

This is against a backdrop of global retrenchment, protectionism, nationalism and with existential questions hanging over the WTO. Arab states are making peace with Israel while natural allies within Europe are turning frosty. The world is changing beyond recognition, moving on from the post-war order to become something entirely different with radical and unpredictable shifts in the power dynamics. It therefore stands to reason that the institutions of yore, by birth and by function soft power assets of the West, they no longer enjoy the prestige and power they once did.

From a domestic sense, Brexit has been portrayed as a freak, moving against its own interests our of a bloc at peace with itself and living in glorious harmony. But it may also be that the UK is merely the early adopter and the first to realise the direction of travel and the first to come to terms with its own political exhaustion and economic stagnation. We struggle to control this chain of events not least because we do not understand them but also because change of this magnitude cannot be controlled. Reaching a consensus on where next is proving impossible.

Being that the EU is a prisoner of its own rules, unable to show initiative and unable to flex to the circumstances of Brexit, largely in keeping with its usual crisis management, it perhaps underscores why the UK needs to be free of such constraints in order to reinvent and to find itself once more. After all, Brexit is as much a national identity crisis as anything amplified by the EU's weakening of the union over the decades.

There is a sense of disbelief among remainers that leavers do not apparently care about the litany of urgent economic concerns. There is a bloody minded determination to see it through whatever the cost. What leavers seem to recognise is that the deep set political dysfunction cannot be allowed to continue and that the driving economic factors behind Brexit can no longer be swept under the carpet.

The largely middle class  marchers against democracy we saw last week triangulate their own progressive values with the PR of the EU and the virtue signalling of the BBC and the house of Commons - and they don't see much of a problem. Leafy suburbia does not have to contend with rape gangs, daily stabbings and acid attacks and is blissfully insulated from the growing homeless problem much of which is unarguably exacerbated by EU freedom of movement. They don't want change because they see no cause for it.

Being that the nation is so fragmented along a number of fault-lines, with collapsing social mobility and a widening gulf between the London and the regions, we cannot even say that our own country is a union let alone able to unify with Europe. Something has to give and there can be no rebuilding and no reconciliation until it does - and not until we know what the new political terrain looks like - which in due course will look very different to now.

With Labour locked into a bizarre nostalgic socialism and the Tories chasing their free trade delusions - and the centrists desperately seeking to put the genie back in the bottle, nothing in our politics is speaking to the instutionalised dysfunction in the country and could never realise the problem not least because it means admitting they are fifty per cent of it. An obsolete politics completely out of touch. The solutions floating to the surface are rehashes of tried and failed ideas.

If there are to be solutions then they are not going to come from politics as we know it. There is for a time going to have to be a free for all so that the people themselves work out what it is they want and organise to get it. The establishment parties will need to be swept aside and our political institutions rejuvenated. This cannot happen if we elect to limp on with the same bland EU inspired managerialism.

It is only with a political renewal can we understand ourselves and reforge a sense of national unity. Again the EU is an obstacle to that in that it has for decade sharply divided the country and propped up the managerial order muting any expressions of democracy. It is only through that process can we rediscover political competence. After all fifty percent of competence is knowing what you want and how to get it. Being that our ruling class is not of the people and communicates through the warped prism of media it is left to take guesses what we want. It cannot legislate in accordance with national values when it does not share our values.

When we have a political class marinated in political correctness, imbued with the idea that the plebs cannot be trusted and carried away by narcissistic constructs like the EU, it can only ever diverge further from the societal norms, to the point where lawyers are hounding war veterans and men in drag are put in female prisons. A political class held hostage to social justice fads and the culture of weaponised offence taking. 

There is far more to resolve than the economic. The spiritual, moral and intellectual wellbeing of the nation is in a similar state of decline. It very well explains why we are turning our backs on liberalism. It is permissive to the point of perversion and increasingly authoritarian when threatened. Meanwhile with prosperous borders, hyperglobalisation and shifts in technology and communication everything is in a permanent state of flux and communities become ever more transient too diverse for there to be any kind of cohesion. Little wonder then that we are becoming ungovernable and becoming increasingly insular and selfish.

This is increasingly aggravated by EU attempts to homogenise and liberalise labour markets, thus removing any democratic influence over labour laws and further castrating unions. We are told the EU has gifted us protections and rights but we increasingly find they are not worth the paper they are written on and are there mainly to neuter genuine grassroots mobilisation.

The liberal baloney about interconnectedness and economic integration suits the mobile and generally rootless youth still rolling the dice before they find a sense of belonging which in part explains the age differential in the Brexit vote. Remainers, though, assume this is part of a liberalising trend believing that we have abolished human nature and that the young do not settle down and turn into rusty old gammon. Certainly a settled community is less likely being that we appear to be abolishing home ownership thus creating a nomadic population accepting that settling is only for those who can afford to. The long term consequence is an elderly population without assets or pensions.

In my assessment there is simply too much broken for us not to need a fundamental reset of how we go about politics and who does politics on our behalf. It cannot be Brussels. If we are to build a new settlement then it must be to our own designs and we cannot be grovelling to the EU commission every time we want to reform policy.

I am certain that we will make a pig's ear of Brexit. I don't suppose it could have been any other way and the chances of an intelligent Brexit are vanishingly small. After that comes the recriminations and infighting but then comes the space race to design the new order. The Corbynite fantasies will fall flat on their face and the Tory right probably won't even last that long with their "free trade" ideology already hitting the rocks in the WTO. The gods are uncooperative. The power will then flow to the remaining adults in the room. 

The healthy signal that we are getting from the polls is that there is increasingly a massive constituency of politically homeless people. If at this point you are not politically homeless then you simply aren't paying attention. It is we who will have to step in and "take back control". Brexit is the political enema we've been waiting for. 

I am often accused of having sided with Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson to bring Brexit about. I'm certainly not in that Brexit camp and I never have been. I have long thought that Brexit will destroy such men. Johnson already stand as exposed and those who have not yet seen through Rees-Mogg are about to get a first hand education is precisely how wrong that man is. It will be difficult not to gloat even when I'm living on stocks of tinned ravioli. 

If anyone ever thought Brexit would be done and dusted in a couple of years they were quite wrong. Brexit will define the next era and probably the politics of the next three decades at least. Brexit day is only the beginning of a long road to build a new Britain with new politics, new institutions and new ideas. It is a chance to properly address many of the issues our ruling class refuses to - problems that aren't going to go away unless we do. That, my friends, is why I'm not losing any sleep over a car factory in Sunderland. For sure it does matter - but the future of Britain matters more. 

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