Friday, 11 January 2019

The nature of the beast

Most people have no idea what the EU is or how it functions. Remainers don't know or care. It's just a thing in the background that gives them a few added perks and underpins the current economic and political settlement which they don't want to meaningfully change. They might say they do but in the end, they still support centralist ideas and statist economic planning - and the rejection of the EU just means we need to throw more welfare at the plebs. Governance is just a matter of mucking out the lepers once in a while.

Leavers, however, they have no idea either. They think the EU is a big club of political elites and we pay a membership fee to be part of a bloc that makes petty regulations for us. They think we can swan off and keep our £39bn and everything will function as before. Keeping the trucks rolling is just a matter of both sides agreeing to be nice to each other - and if the EU puts up barriers, then that's a politically motivated blockade. 

But that is the EU really? Primarily it is a political project with a single destination in mind; Ever closer union. Whether this can ever be fully realised is a matter of debate built the apparatus of the EU is geared toward pressing toward that objective. Some people support it but those who understand the implications for democracy do not. If we are working toward ever more European homogeneity of law then ever more competences will be beyond the reach of democratic influence. 

That of itself is reason enough to leave. That has never been in doubt in my mind. Moreover, the fact that it is a system of governance and indeed; a government, and that nobody properly understands it is all the more reason to call it a day. 

Where Brexit is concerned, though, what matters is the practical consequences. There are plenty of good practical reasons not to leave. Remaining therefore is not a positive proposition. It is simply pragmatism. We surrender to pragmatism and accept the political dogma that goes with it. Except there's the human factor. We are not cold pragmatists. The politics of it matter, democracy matters and the sanctity of the nation state matters. We are humans, we form communities based on values and geography and they become natural cultures. The EU is an artificial attempt at union - and it never works. 

But if we have decided to prioritise politics over pragmatism, there are still issues to address. That means we have to understand our way out of this mess and that means understanding what the business end of the EU is. So what is it? 

Depending on who you talk to the EU is a socialist empire or a neoliberal empire or some other variation. It's a political inkblot test based on your own political bent. In reality though it is a business operating system for Europe. Or more accurately, the single market is. This is why Brexiter claims that everything will be fine without a deal are delusional. 

It is not the case that the EU simply makes laws for us. Those laws are part of an integrated system for the enabling of commerce. The workers rights it awards are nothing to do with caring for European citizens. It's about creating a level playing field for business so that the rules are uniform throughout. Once they are uniform, they are beyond our control and will be negotiated downwards in international trade talks. Workers rights become a tradable commodity. The presence of rules on workers rights is why the progressives have been hoodwinked.

What the Brexiters don't seem to comprehend is that we are not a country linked by a single treaty connection to the EU. Membership is a million strands of integration. We do not have a relationship with the EU. We are the EU. We no more have a relationship with the EU than I have a relationship with my right leg. It is a part of me. 

The process of becoming an independent nation, therefore, is a process of delicate microsurgery in which we also need to decide what it is that we do need to collaborate on for the level of commercial activity we want to preserve. That is a far more difficult question when we have our own red lines - but the EU has its own red lines too. It wants to preserve the integrity of its commercial operating system.

The Brexiteers will call upon arcane WTO nostrums as to why things will carry on as normal but what they fail to understand is that the EU is the regional trade boss. It can do what it pleases according to its own set of rules and if the UK feels it is mistreated, not only does it have to bring a case to the WTO and finance it, it must be prepared to wait the years it takes to resolve such issues. Their faith in the WTO is misplaced.

There is no way to make them understand. Getting people to think in terms of systems is difficult. Most people assume that commerce simply just happens, but the EU is just one node in a complex and diverse system of rules and that moving out of one regulatory ecosystem does not put us into an unregulated wild west. Even the EU is bound by regional and global obligations.

Whatever your view of the EU, it is a system that have evolved over 40 years and commerce has evolved inside that ecosystem. Much of the trade we enjoy only exists because of the removal of bureaucratic barriers created by national differentials. The single market has progressed things and to a large extent we are enriched because of it. The desire to leave it may be understandable in that it is an all or nothing approach, but only a fool thinks we can function without a formal trade relationship with our nearest and largest partner. 

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