Friday, 26 October 2018

Brexit: A very messy, very costly business.

A few people privately compelled me not to attack Nick Boles over his "Norway then Canada" proposal (recently debunked on LeaveHQ) - telling me that it was some sort of clever political manoeuvre. Did they seriously think that others who have given it a nanosecond's thought would not drive a horse and cart through it? It would seem that Brexitologists far and wide have been taking great pleasure in pecking it to death today.

Boles has been wittering about Norway then Canada for a year now. It was a stupid idea then and he was told it was a stupid idea - and now the internet has ripped it apart making him look a prat. He will still run with it, though, because he's in transmit mode only.

The consequence of this is that he will further discredit the EEA option, providing more material for its critics - and yet we long time EEA advocates are supposed to roll over and congratulate the oaf for his contribution to the debate. Sorry, no. There is a way to argue that EEA could be transitional - toward a new European settlement, and we could use the opportunity to help Switzerland consolidate its own relationship then evolve the EEA - but Boles preferred his own flatulence.

There is actually a way to do the EEA option in a way that not only solves our problem but also helps the EU consolidate its own external relations making Brexit a win-win for both sides. But nobody here is seeing the big picture or how to leverage Brexit as European reform.

It also makes it palatable to remainers. We could preserve the best of the EU while being the leader of the outer ring of the European family of nations - minimising the economic harm while also giving Brexiters most of what we want. We would then be a huge influence inside a more agile bloc able to push back against EU initiatives - but because of the visionless narrow thinking of the Tories we could end up in an FTA - out on our own with an ever hardening EU leash - to become a passive rule taker.

Essentially, by dumping the EEA, either the long way around or directly the process is better described as "Canada then Switzerland". An FTA is never going to be sufficient and it would need to evolve over time to restore some functionality to our supply chains. This will essentially require the UK grants the EU jurisdiction over our food safety system in much the same way as Switzerland does now - with direct applicability of ECJ rulings. 

This is essentially why The Leave Alliance settled on the EEA. It was always going to be the case that we ended up adopting EU rules on some level so it comes down to an assessment of which is the most equitable and transparent framework for this process. That is Efta hands down. There is no automatic adoption. Had Boles ever put in the work he would have known this but we see from his own blog his attitude to detail. 

This pretty much underscores the attitude to Brexit throughout. It is the belief that details attend to themselves which allows our MPs to wave around concepts they do not understand. This is not confined to Boles. I continually bump into the assertion that EEA would also require a customs union. It's more an article of faith than an actual reasoned conclusion. For starters the majority of checks are absolutely nothing to do with the customs union. Even the EU has said this.

The Westminster bubble can be divided roughly into two Brexit camps. There are the fantasists who think the issues can be resolved by fictions of their own creation - those like Shanker Singham and his brood of ultra-Brexiter MPs. Then there are those like Boles, generally remainers, who run for the safety of known buzzwords without any clue as to their meaning. 

This is the cumulative effect of EU membership. As much as our own technical diplomatic ability has been hollowed out as the EU has quietly accumulated more powers, our politicians have not been tasked with anything complex for quite some time. There lacks the institutional capability to manage change or deal with anything more complex than empty virtue signalling gesture politics.

If the EU is frustrated at the ineptitude of the UK government it should step back for a moment and marvel at its own creation. This is what happens when institutions are robbed of their power and vitality. For at least two decades now Westminster has been a toothless talking shop largely obsessed with its own fads and point-scoring politics. Our politics has become self-absorbed and insular. It is not remotely surprising that they gladly hand over powers to Brussels. They cannot handle the responsibility. 

This to me is what makes Brexit very necessary. The country may be divided but we can pretty much all agree that our politics is in a cycle of decline - and if our politics is in decline the the country will surely follow. The 2016 vote was like the storm that brought down the tree that rotted from the inside. It shows how brittle our politics has become and indeed how vulnerable the UK is from having channelled all of its external relations through Brussels.

What the Brexit process needed was dedicated and determined politicians exercising a level of statecraft they are no longer capable of. It was therefore inevitable that Brexit would be bungled. Though some would have it that this is reason enough to remain that would be a conscious choice not to arrest the decline and essentially resign ourselves to the anonymous and remote managerialism of the EU. 

Should we allow the rot to continue we will gradually find that the levers of power in Westminster are not actually connected to anything where the civil services is little more than an extension of the Commission, where our elections are only maintained to keep up the illusion of democracy. 

It is for this reason I am ultimately in the "Brexit at any cost" camp. I would prefer that we did not pay more than we have to, but we cannot put a price on democracy. If our institutions are no longer ours to command, if our politics is empty and our elections meaningless, if we are robbed of the power to implement our decisions, then we are little more than economic units grazing from the land at the mercy of Brussels technocrats. 

Brexit is going to be a very messy, very costly business. This is not, though, for theoretical gains or vague concepts. This is about correcting a historical error that has brought the UK to the edge of political oblivion and castrated our democracy - so much so that we no longer even know what the word means.

Eurozone countries are now learning that if you take away a government’s authority over its budgets, you have taken away much of that government’s reason to exist. It is ironic that EU member states should realise this when much of Britain still hasn't. Quietly the EU has assumed competence over everything from airline services to energy markets - the invisible government we only ever notice when it stops working. Though the UK dodged a bullet by steering clear of the Euro, Brexit shows us that the EU has tentacles in every corner of UK governance. 

Brexit shows us that returning that essential power to its rightful owners is a lot more difficult than it is to give them away. If that process is painful the blame lies not with Brexiters, rather it lies with the generations of politicians who squandered our legacy and sold our democracy at such a low price.

As EUreferendum notes, Just of 28 months from the referendum, we have entered a no-man's land – a strange political vacuum where there are no markers to tell us where we are going. The outcome is as uncertain now as it has ever been, if not more so. We are approaching the end of the beginning. Soon though that moment of reckoning will arrive that will define the the era to come. It is from there that we rebuild, once again learning how to govern ourselves. That will, of itself, be a cleansing process. Certainly the idiot Brexiter clan will not survive.

I have often reflected that we cannot go on like this. We cannot continue to limp on with hollowed out politics and disconnected policies. Change is both urgent and necessary. But actually, the remainers are right. We can go on like this. For a time at least, until that which does work in the EU stops working. I fear, though, that if we continue with an empty and frivolous politics that we shall become an empty and frivolous people. Certainly if the leaders of the remain camp are anything to go by, we are halfway there already.

No comments:

Post a Comment