Monday, 12 November 2018

Coasting over the cliff

The rationale for leaving the EU has not changed in decades. It is as sound now as it was in 1975. If you know what democracy is then you know the EU is not a democracy. You know it is a sovereignty leeching technocracy and if you've looked in any detail at the functioning of the EU then no amount of a remainer sophistry is going to persuade you otherwise.

Unlike Tory Brexiters I do not pretend that Brexit is an economically positive move. I cannot credibly argue that case nor would I seek to. I do, however, think it is a necessary precursor to far reaching reform of British democracy. The EU underpins a political and economic status quo and meaningful change is not possible without removing the EU element.

I take the view that the test of a democracy is the ability of peoples to organise and force change and that system must be able to respond in good time. To win even marginal reforms of EU policy can take a matter of years. Reforms to posted worker rules and fishing discards took the better part of a decade. That to me is intolerable and inadequate.

Brexit, therefore, is the process of returning political authority to its rightful place. Unless that political authority rests with the British public then we cannot say that our system of government is democratic. Brexit is also a corrective. Political authority was passed to the EU without consultation or consent. We undo what was done to us without having a say.

These arguments, though, were not at the forefront of the Brexit debate. Vote Leave turned the referendum into a tawdry campaign centred on financial contributions and immigration. In doing so they elected not to exploit three open goals. The first being that the EU steadfastly refused to contemplate meaningful reform. The second being that our own establishment wouldn't even ask for meaningful reform, and the third being that our prime minister, having secured nothing of value, proceeded to lie about it.

To say that the reforms were bogus and to exploit those open goals would have meant the largely Tory Vote Leave outfit attacking a Tory prime minister. Being tribal animals they would never do this. They instead co-opted the referendum to put themselves in pole position to push a programme of radical economic right policies for which there is no mandate under the 2016 referendum - which was nothing more or less than an instruction to leave the EU.

The question of how we leave was then an open book, especially since Vote Leave declined to outline a plan of any kind. It  stands to reason though, that any exit must be compatible with the intellectual objectives of the leave movement, which primarily is control of our own laws and the removal of EU political authority.

Here though, the principles of Brexit bump into the realities of the world as we find it in which regulatory harmonisation is a precursor to frictionless trade and in this the EU is the regional regulatory superpower. Trading with the EU requires a number of compromises. We must also be mindful that the vote was won by a narrow margin because even though the economic concerns are subordinate to the principle, they are not by any means irrelevant.

There are those who would disagree with me who think we should leave at all costs and any price is worth paying. In spirit I stand with them but in practice we need a deal and I don't think we should suffer more than we have to to secure our objectives.

The problem, though is that all of the compromises are to some extent unpalatable. An FTA essentially leaves Northern Ireland inside the EU customs territory and subject to EU rules without a say and though customs formalities along the Irish Sea can be kept to a minimum, the DUP, rightly in my view, are dissatisfied with any deal that dilutes UK sovereign territory. The Prime Minister is also of that view even though she has, foolishly, boxed us into that corner.

There are then only two intellectually coherent approaches. Either we retain the EEA which does require some serious compromise from leavers or no deal at all whereby the UK calls the EU bluff and we find an alternative solution to the Irish border outside of the confines of Article 50. Economically this option is, to put it lightly, economically undesirable.

Being that Mrs May took the EEA off the table some time ago and with the likes of Nick Boles further discrediting the option, a Norway type settlement has never looked more remote and though it is my preferred solution (if suboptimal) I have given up any hope of it becoming a reality. It has faced a pincer movement between the leave and remain extremes each reciting the same mythology which has been impossible to overcome, not least due to the idleness of politicians and the ineptitude of the media. They poisoned the well some time ago.

With that option off the table I am somewhat ambivalent to the whole thing now. Insofar as it matters, Northern Ireland being tied to food safety rules and EU customs procedures is hardly anything worth going to the barricades over. It's really a matter for Northern Ireland to reconcile. As to a UK wide customs union I still fail to see what that would accomplish. It is certainly not intellectually in keeping with the intellectual basis for leaving.

With politics being what it is though, it would seem that any compromise is likely to hit the rocks and face opposition from at least one of the factions. Designing a mutually agreeable solution that could garner the assent of parliament was always a tall order. For the EEA to have worked it would have required decisive leadership or for parliament to assert its sovereignty.

Mostly though, with one or two honourable exceptions, our MPs have been inept. They have failed to assert their own authority at every turn and now events are setting the course for us, which on present from looks like we are crashing out without a deal and barring an unprecedented shift in parliamentary dynamics, there is little to prevent it from occurring.

Being that I have written extensively on why this would be a very bad thing, I really should be taking it more seriously but I think the window of opportunity to turn it around has closed. The fever has to burn itself out and we are not going to see any sense at all until there are observable consequences. Only then, when the ultra Brexiters stand discredited and the current administration ejected, will there be any kind of narrative coherence which ought to dictate our next moves. At that point EEA Efta will look a lot more attractive than it does now. That will be the last opportunity to revive the option.

Until then we have to tolerate the immense tedium of Article 50 bickering, the political infighting and rows and then the equally horrifying and amusing plunge over the cliff. I say amusing because the far extremes of both sides will get an enormous dose of what they've had coming for a while. Their arrogance and petulance will be richly rewarded. The public too will find there are consequences for electing any quasi-sentient hatstand with a red or blue rosette.

Whichever way this goes now, we are on the eve of a political reckoning. It is one long overdue and the consequence of thirty years of misrule and political debasement. This is payback for all the issues we have swept under the carpet and politics is about to become quite ugly. This is judgement day for the British establishment. This is why I won't lift a finger to prevent the inevitable. If an orderly exit is not possible then let there be disorder. We need to put this to bed once and for all.

No comments:

Post a Comment