Friday, 9 November 2018

The real Brexit dividend

As EUreferendum blog notes, the chances of another referendum of any kind are somewhere around nil. If the government were going to kill Brexit they would have by now and they would not go to a vote to do it. The only reason remainers are talking about having another vote is because they have no idea what else to do and no idea how to direct their energies. They could have chosen to to do something more productive but that would have meant accepting the verdict of 2016 which was never going to happen.

It was never going to happen because these are people who don't think we should have had a vote in the first place and are still generally outraged that we were allowed a say at all. To this day they still believe the 2016 referendum came out of the blue and was largely to do with internal divisions in the Conservative Party.

The truth of it, however, is that there was always going to be a referendum on EU membership. There was always going to be an independence movement and it was only a matter of time because they were in a position to force the issue. It was also inevitable that we would, eventually, be leaving the EU. It has never secured sufficient legitimacy. This is where the second-reffers/re-voters haven't thought it through.

The character of any future referendum would be markedly different from the last one. It's hard to say what side the government would pick and how enthusiastically it would make the case. What we do know is that Remain would consist of all the same (dreadful) people and they won't have learned a damn thing. They will only talk of the economic impacts and they will be as condescending and sour as ever.

Leave, though, would struggle to mount any kind of coherent campaign. They could't run with the £350m shtick again and none of the leading voices from last time still have credibility. That ought to make it a cakewalk for remain. But not necessarily. Here we could again see leave winning in spite of the lamentable performance of the official campaign simply because the same conditions still exist and the establishment would again parade its toxicity to the country.

The vote would very much centre on the fact we were being forced to vote again because the establishment didn't like the result and so the vote would centre on the central issue - the health of our democracy. The referendum would become what the first one should have been and would have been had Vote Leave not turned it into an economic proposition. From a sovereignty and democracy perspective Leave has the far stronger and more inspiring messages.

Remainers still have the handicap of having to skirt around what the EU is, where it is going and downplay the creeping federalism. They would again be forced to argue that we need the EU for labour rights and cheap phone calls abroad. It didn't work last time and this time they can't pretend to us that the EU's influence over our laws is minimal. It's all out in the open now.

If Remain did win it would largely be out of a general sense of resignation that the current government isn't capable of delivering Brexit without causing major economic damage. That would essentially be a concession that we are simply no longer capable of self-governance - which of itself is not a mandate for the EU nor does it make the EU any more legitimate.

Moreover, telling us to vote again knowing that Leave had lost its organisational capability and the momentum from the movement built over the last two decades would essentially be a stitch up. It would leave a Lisbon sized scar causing leave to start over if remain won. If remain won, it would more than likely be by a small margin and certainly not large enough to secure a legitimate mandate for membership of the EU as it is let alone how it will develop in the future. The clock would reset and sooner or later we'd be back where we are now.

What remainers essentially want is to undo the 2016 vote as though it never happened. The problem, however, is that the 2016 status quo no longer exists, the divisions are exposed and our politics is in terminal decline. Attempts to patch up any sense of centrist normality would rapidly fall apart not least because they would be actively despised by the electorate. The centre cannot hold.

Any attempt to stave of any populist backlash from having defeated Brexit would result in ever more sinister authoritarian measures. We have seen in recent months how the EU is ramping up its efforts to combat "fake news" and a future UK government would likely do the same but largely seeking to quash dissent. Things could take a very dark turn resulting in even far more extreme movements than anything we have seen in living memory. By stopping Brexit we would be telling half of the country that their votes will never count for anything.

If Britain is to move forward then we have to find a way to heal the country and EU membership would make that impossible. Britain just isn't suited to it not least because it isn't our politics. As much as most people couldn't name their MEP or probably a single Commissioner, virtually nobody, not even avid remainers can tell you who the main parties in the European Parliament are and what they stand for.

This week there is a European People's Party congress (the largest party in the European Parliament since 1999) which received no mention in any major news outlet. We don't tune into it any more than we would tune into the politics of Kazakhstan. The only vessels covering it are Euractiv, Politico Europe, and EUObserver and nobody British is tweeting about it. It has no British members but we would pay no attention were it any other party. Nobody who isn't in some way on the gravy train gives it a nanosecond's attention.

As much as EU politics is meaningless to Brits, the EU itself is also equally meaningless to most. Even enthusiastic remainers see it through a particularly British lens as a utilitarian construct; essentially a vending machine progressive laws and rights but not something central to our politics.

On the continent the EU is viewed differently. Pan-European politics does have overlaps and the political culture of the EU is similar to that of Germany and France. Moreover the EU has meaning as a conciliation between two or more normally warring powers. To us Brits, though, it's just a goldfish bowl. Mosts people's relationship with the European Parliament is having seen the odd tub-thumping speech from Nigel Farage on Youtube. It has no special presence for us.

This is essentially why the EU cannot be a feature in our politics. A democracy needs certain essential components. First and foremost it requires consent but it must also have a demos that is in someway interested along with a media serving a crucible of debate. None of that exists in a meaningful sense. Euro-election turnouts are pitiful, media attention is minimal and only at high level in times of crisis, and we are not culturally attuned to it precisely because it is an artificial construct. It is not organic politics. 

Unlike UK democracy, where manifesto ideas are debated and discussed and sometimes defeated, Commission proposals tend to go unnoticed, undebated and we only become aware of such measures after they've been rubber stamped when it's too late to do anything about it. Without media following power, there is no system of public accountability and no early warning mechanism. We cannot, therefore, say it is a democracy because the necessary components are not there for government by consent. The presence of periodic voting rituals is neither here nor there. 

The EU is acutely aware of this. This is what it describes as a democratic deficit and has over the years spend a kings ransom on trying to engineer civic participation. There are gimmicks such as the "Citizen's Initiative" but this is tacking public participation o to a system that never had it in mind. Citizens cannot organise, fight elections and take control of the agenda and if they cannot do that then by definition it is not a democracy.

The EU is not an entity anyone could seriously love. Its institutions are hardly cherished or respected nor do they have pedigree or gravitas. The parade of europhilia we see in London protesting Brexit, is not a march for the EU, rather the EU's projected values overlap with their own shallow politics and the EU is a proxy for their progressive centrism which the electorate has now rejected. 

Modern europhilia is a skin deep affiliation with an entity they no more understand than the average Tory Brexiter. Pro-EU activists can recite chapter and verse the Janet and John version of how the EU works in theory but tend to know nothing of how it functions in practice which is why they can say with a straight face that the UK never lost sovereignty. 

It turns out that what remainers like about the EU is the very fact it isn't a democracy even though they pretend it is. They like the fact that irrespective of general elections there are certain policies, laws and entitlements locked out of the reach of our own politicians and the idea that any future government might reform certain entitlements and rights or repeal an environmental law is anathema too them. 

Here we see the vacuity of the modern europhile. They tell us the Tories want Brexit so they can scrap human rights laws, workers rights and start bulldozing protected habitats of crested newts. Always the EU is judged by its intentions rather than its outcomes. This is the politics of immature teenagers brainwashed to believe that the Tories want to take us back to Victorian times and strip the poor of their rights. What have you got against workers rights? they ask.

The thing about workers rights is that they are always evolving because work is always changing, attitudes and habits change and so do business models. Labour laws need constant reform which cannot happen when they are bound in EU law. Without reform we find obsolete laws from another era distorting the labour market, stifling worker choice and resulting in unintended consequences that mean we have fewer protections in practice. The EU has become a surrogate labour union making our own unions compliant cogs in the machine. 

There are many inadequacies in our own democracy and one feature of the Brexit debate has been remainers telling us that any given problem is more the fault of our own government than the EU. This overlooks the fact that our own government IS the EU. It is a supranational supreme government which sets the parameters of our own laws and instructs us to replace our laws with theirs - not for the sake of improvement, rather the prime motivator is universality and harmonisation toward the utopian European ideal.

Moreover, the full extent of EU influence is not understood. The 2008 Energy Act was a major programme of spending and restructuring but essentially to fulfil EU targets, directives and market integration objectives. Last on the priority list was actually producing affordable, competitive energy. To the uninitiated it looks very much like domestic law thus obscuring the influence of the EU and blurring the lines of accountability. This is the "hidden Europe" phenomenon.

Because the UK retains essential sovereignty over education, health and welfare, as far as most on the left are concerned, we have full control of everything that will ever matter to them. But the administration and who has access to such things is very much governed by the EU. As to the rest, just because trade, energy, water, agriculture financial and consumer rules are not of interest does not mean they are any less important or essential to remaining a competitive economy and vibrant democracy.

Over four decades we have seen EU laws gradually creeping into every known policy area, strangling the life out of national and local democracy, piling on the bureaucracy which in turn influences our spending and turns government into a quangocracy while local councils becomes corporate scale regional development agencies where councillors are little more than citizen's advisory boards with no power to speak of. This demote the citizen to the status of a mere economic unit there to be occasionally polled to maintain the illusion of democratic participation.

Consequently, if Britain wishes to revitalise its own economy, it must first revitalise its democracy and the way we do politics. That cannot be done while our politicians largely exist as servants of Brussels to manage the implementation of technocratic diktats. This is perhaps less acute for the UK as non-Eurozone members but EU laws are the invisible cage around our democracy and meaningful reform will remain elusive for as long as we remain in the EU. 

To remainers I say that liberty and human rights are not things gifted to us by the EU. Liberty is the product of constant vigilance. Workers rights and human rights can be enshrined in law, but that is merely ink on a page. The defence of those rights comes from an engaged and empowered public, which is demonstrably not a feature of the EU system.

Having left the EU it is very possible that the Tories may propose a radical repeal of worker protections. It is certainly worthy of debate in that many are obsolete and not fit for purpose, but to keep that which is worth having will require us to use our institutions, to join unions, to vote often and to take a full role in public life. That is what it means to be a citizen. A point lost on those obsessed with their purple passports and blue flags. 

The trend of British history has been toward ever more democratisation and empowerment. We have a proud tradition of this dating back hundreds of years. The rights we enjoy are those fought for and won - sometimes with our blood. They were not given to us by the EU. That process is one that ever ends and there is always room to go further. Our own Westminster system is now an obsolete throwback and we need a new politics and a new constitution. This is the Brexit dividend - the change to build a democracy befitting the digital age.

We are now entering a new era of globalisation where there is massive corporate power manipulating regional and global institutions, lobbying for laws that protect their monopolies and stifle competition. The EU and WTO prize freedom of capital over democracy and culture. To this we must be alert. In respect of that sovereignty is not an outdated concept. It is an essential line of defence. It cannot be pooled or diluted. That is to simply surrender the exercise of vital powers to the unaccountable. It is our parliament who should decide who and what can come into the country, not a Portuguese trade official or an ECJ judge. 

Brexit was never about £350m for the NHS or even immigration especially. Leavers were poorly served by Vote Leave Ltd, and the true purpose of Brexit was not aired thanks to the opportunists at the head of the leave campaign having no real track record as eurosceptics. They stole Brexit for their own ends. Ir is for us to reclaim Brexit from them and reclaim our democracy for us. Brexit was never an end in itself. It is a means to an end and the beginning of a long process. This is primarily about power - returning it to those it was stolen from without their consent and using it to ensure they never get to do it to us again. 

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