Best be leaving now

The European Commission has launched a public consultation to gather views of the broader public on setting up a European Labour Authority and the introduction of a European Social Security Number.

The European Labour Authority should ensure that EU rules on labour mobility are enforced in a fair, simple and effective way. Concretely, building on existing structures, the Authority would support national administrations, businesses, and mobile workers by strengthening cooperation at EU level on matters such as cross-border mobility and social security coordination. It would also improve access to information for public authorities and mobile workers and enhance transparency regarding their rights and obligations.

The European Social Security Number (ESSN) aims at simplifying and modernising citizens’ interaction with administrations in a range of policy areas. An EU Social Security Number would facilitate the identification of persons across borders for the purposes of social security coordination and allow the quick and accurate verification of their social security insurance status. It would facilitate administrative procedures for citizens by optimising the use of digital tools”.

Both initiatives were announced by President Juncker in his 2017 State of the Union address. Legislative proposals for both initiatives are announced in the European Commission’s Work Programme for 2018 and planned to be tabled by spring 2018.

There are two ways to look at this. This could be viewed as the EU steaming ahead to do all that which it could not do with the UK as a member, much like PESCO. The other way to look at it is that this was always the direction of travel. UK membership only really governs the pace of integration and a “public consultation” means they are going to do it regardless of what anyone thinks.

Either way, this is not the domain of a mere trade bloc. This is an instrument of an emerging supreme government, to which the UK would otherwise be subordinate. It is the foundation of Juncker’s “Social Europe” meaning that social and welfare policy will gradually drift toward Brussels and far out of the reach of democracy. Of course, this would follow that much vaunted Brussels subsidiarity principle. You are free to have any have any policy you like, just so long as it stays within the parameters defined by the Commission and the ECJ.

And this is the thing with the EU. Once consent is established for the basic foundation, the ossification process begins to the point where you no longer have the power, reform is impossible and like trade and agriculture, it simply drops out of public discourse. Why debate that which cannot be influenced? This is how we drift from democracy to technocracy – and subsequently stagnation and disaffection. That is why I would vote to leave every single time.

Make no mistake – Brexit is a revolution

The departure of Priti Patel has made Department for International Development (DfID), fleetingly, a relevant topic of debate. Now to me, if you want to understand Brexit you are best looking at DfID. The reason being that its very existence is the product of the left wing capture of the establishment and is emblematic of it. It is the canary down the mine.

A lot of crap has been written about “the establishment” by people who confuse money and status with power. Real power is control over the institutions because from there you can subvert the culture. Not for nothing did the USSR invest so much energy in infiltrating UK academia and media – and not for nothing did the EU set about doing the same thing. If you can do that then you are the establishment.

Though there has been much denial that the EU influences education, the denials are from a position of ignorance. The EU does not keep its objectives secret. The “conspiracy” is hidden in plain sight.

Cultural changes and global interdependence have led to the creation of a tremendous variety of European and international networks, focused on specific objectives. Some have been supported by Community funding. These networks link businesses, communities, research centres, and regional and local authorities. They provide new foundations for integration within the Union and for building bridges to the applicant countries and to the world.

Though it’s dressed up in Eurocratese when you look at the flow of funding it all starts to make sense. Universities are recipients, as are NGOs and the BBC. For years we on the right have complained about the encroachment of the soft left social democratic NGO inspired consensus only to be met with calculated ridicule from BBC Radio 4 “comedy” output. See The Now Show/NewsQuiz. Except we were right and we still are.

The reason the EU influence tends to be NGO inspired claptrap is because the globalist NGOs are immensely powerful lobbyists. But there’s more to it than that. Because there is no European demos to speak of and the EU does not enjoy democratic legitimacy it had to manufacture it by way of paying NGOs huge sums to lobby it. A well documented phenomenon. A mutually advantageous PR merry-go-round. Everything from climate change to saving the bees. Astroturfing as it is now called.

It has since set the agenda for media campaigns, and academic syllabuses. This then works its way into popular culture. Not least through children’s television. There was always a dose of NGO propaganda on the BBC from Red Nose Day (and the celeb culture therein) to the near constant agenda-driven content of Blue Peter and Newsround. School projects and teaching materials were also subverted. I would perhaps venture this is why millennials are such credulous wet blankets and hopelessly enamoured with the EU.

By the early nineties the buzzword “sustainability” could be found everywhere – and culminated in Cameron’s husky hugging eco-conservatism (just as the fad was waning). In between we’ve had any number of job-killing eco targets driving energy costs up for the poor. But this is the mentality which is common to the globalist elite. It is ultimately politically sterile left wing populism with its own dogmas, demanding conformity for advancement just like any other political bubble.

The encroachment of this political consensus was so advanced at one point that politicians thought it was an election winner. It was this assumption that caused Cameron to sanitise the Tory party and alienate the right, pushing them out into Ukip. I think that was probably when Brexit became an inevitability. The Tory party was weaponising virtue signalling. This brings me to an illuminating piece from Prospect Online, featuring the testimony of a DfID official.

When the financial crisis hit in 2008, Cameron forgot his previous commitment to match Labour’s wider spending total and embraced retrenchment. DfId, however, was immune. Aid was not merely shielded from the planned cuts, like the NHS, but continued to be earmarked for the rises required to get Britain to 0.7 per cent.

Cameron ventured to Rwanda where he gave a speech about development and announced the launch of his party’s own aid venture, Project Umubano. An annual two-week trip to Rwanda for Conservative Party MPs and activists, this proved to be Cameron and Mitchell’s secret weapon. As an aid project, Project Umubano is terrible. It’s gap-year-style volunteerism—building classrooms, teaching English, helping out in health clinics. The Instagram feeds of the volunteers are filled with pictures of them surrounded by smiling, grateful children. It’s striking how many people who have been involved in Umubano refer to their trips to “Africa”, not Rwanda.

But as a political project, it was genius. It attracted a stream of volunteers—ambitious would-be Tory MPs soon realised that a fortnight teaching English in a Rwandan village was a sure-fire way of getting yourself on the new “A” list for a safe seat. A decade on, the project’s alumni includes MPs, Lords and special advisers. Mitchell admits that helping Rwanda was only one aim of the project. “I introduced it, above all, to try to make sure that within the Conservative Party there is a core of people who are passionate about development. One of the reasons I bigged it up this year [on its 10th anniversary] was to try to rectify this drift in the Tory Party.”

Now you might write this off as typical Tory cynicism but this is endemic to the culture of Westminster. Here I come back to the words of a controversial blogger, who I shall not name. He observes that in the immediate aftermath of Jo Cox’s death tribute after tribute bore witness to Jo Cox’s uniqueness. “But in reality, nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, women like Jo Cox are ten a penny across the West these days — bland, compliant functionaries who have been marinated in political correctness and are happy to regurgitate the platitudes and attitudes of their political masters. And are well-rewarded for doing so.

She was that toxic combination of self-righteousness and entitlement which believed itself possessed of a special moral insight into the moral shortcomings of their own people. Never slow to parade her compassion, she was also calculating enough to help more dubious causes, as when she lent her name to a government minister who was lobbying for Britain to begin bombing in Syria. Bombing and babies; it was all business for Jo Cox.

Hers was the typical smooth career path of the modern political cog. From her grammar school, where she was the Head Girl, she seamlessly moved onto an extended period at two universities before emerging as professional aid worker for Oxfam and Save the Children. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was another fashionable international development outfit in which she managed to wangle a position as “advisor.”

She certainly travelled extensively, but to what extent did she get her hands dirty? Rather than mopping sweat-covered brows, her role as a policy consultant seemed to revolve swanning around seminars, conferences and committee rooms in Brussels and London. Networking, rather than counselling, seems the main skill in this field.

The safe Labour seat seems to have been a reward for acting as a bag-carrier for prominent political wives such as that of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and a former Labour leader and Euro aristocrat Neil Kinnock. Her constituency seat had been represented by local white men for decades so an all-female shortlist had to be imposed on the local party to ensure an acceptable candidate could be given this plum.

It was a gilded lifestyle with a houseboat on the Thames beside Tower Bridge at which she hosted networking events for important left-wing women. There was a second house in her constituency which was a venue for a huge Solstice party each year.

The role of international aid worker is highly valued among a section of shrewd university-educated females. It offers a particularly attractive combination of a good salary in an expanding sector, frequent foreign travel and high status among the do-gooding circles.”

As you might expect these words, at the time, went down like a lead balloon, but are nonetheless true. This is how the system works and if you want to get a close to power this is the narrative you must follow regardless of your party affiliation.

The reason the sentiment at the time was that the political parties were all the same is because they were. Nobody dared break ranks. Except of course Ukip, whose asinine “plain talking” garnered much support as a protest vote against an increasingly venal and shallow political class incapable of relating to the public.

In fact, the vote to embed the 0.7% GDP aid spending target was carried by a massive majority in the Commons while all polling suggested that few wanted to see an increase in aid spending. The terms “virtue signalling” and “out of touch” don’t even begin to cover it. This is a form of madness.

Our DfID official observes that in the post-Brexit world, “one reason that aid is proving so suddenly vulnerable is that nobody ever made the argument about what modern development involves. It’s not just grain handouts and paying for teachers or nurses. Often our support goes on things which, when ripped from its context and placed in size 72 font on a tabloid headline, can look like a waste. One such project was created in Ethiopia, an innovative crackdown on an epidemic of child marriage”.

It was called Girl Effect and Dfid funded it to the tune of £5.2m. A culture brand was created, called Yegna, which included a radio show and a girl group. The aim was to change perceptions of what girls could do, instead of entering into a marriage before they were 16. DfID thought it was a success, giving it an A rating.

Well of course it did. It makes everybody feel lovely. And that’s what counts isn’t it? Same as sending half a dozen clapped out RAF Tonkas to fire missiles over Syria makes us feel like the right hand of vengeance. Doesn’t actually matter if it has no measurable effect or even if the effects are vastly counter-productive.

And this is what we critics mean when we say there is no accountability. The system is largely self-audited by its own values (however far departed from reality they may be). We should note that the example cited is largely in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals which is pretty much written into the DNA of all UN regulatory activity. Watchers of UNCTAD and the fringes of the WTO will have seen a massive drive for gender equality and all the popular claptrap of the NGO set.

This is usually without listening to the natives who are not especially imbued with meddlesome Western cultural and moral imperialism. Very often there is devastating blowback which seldom ever goes reported.

It is not a good idea to impose Western social mores on tribal peoples. Ultimately it is the women of the West who have asserted their own equality and through trade we need to enable other women to do the same. Ploughing in with moralising lectures from upper middle class white saviour barbies is most certainly not the way to do it.

The touchy-feely narcissistic aid doctrines of the West have on a number of occasions proved utterly disastrous. Not for nothing do we see African nations starting to expel NGOs. They’re a menace.

This is not to say that DfID could not be put to good use but firstly the culture must change and our institutions must be decontaminated. Our aid policy is running almost entirely independently of the FCO, largely to an alien agenda to questionable effect. Its perverse culture is deeply intertwined with the EU which accounts for £5bn of our aid spending.

The whole system has lost the plot, lost its moral centre, forgotten who it serves – and who pays its way. In this regard it’s something of a pity that Ms Patel has blown it for herself. An idiotic wrecker is probably the right medicine for a department as bent out of shape as DfID.

For all that we have nominally had a conservative government for the last seven years we have in fact been living under the same régime since the early nineties. There has been a silent coup where the instruments of state have been re-purposed to serve the agenda of Brussels and the globalist NGOcracy. It is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.

This is why the establishment has fiercely resisted Brexit because it affects their income stream and their access to the levers of power. When they say that Brexit means we will be less influential they mean they will be less influential. This is actually their naivety at work in that the culture rubs off on them and they go native. Hence why academia will go to bat for Brussels every time.

There are plenty of commentators who have noted there is a certain revolutionary zeal about Brexiters. They are not wrong. We want the narcissistic wastrels purged. We want the adults back in control. We want to see academic rigour and an academia that doesn’t mindlessly spout leftist doctrine as though it were the centre ground.

Now you’ll get no argument from me that the Tory right are absolutely insane but these wreckers will break the institutional melding between the EU and UK, it will cut of the funding for divisive EU political agendas, and it will starve the beast; forcing many of the decisions politicians thus far have been too cowardly to take.

Often I get lectures from the great and the good that revolutions are destabilising and often dangerous. Indeed they are. The Tory right will be the first to be consumed by it. But it will rip through politics like a cleansing forest fire.

You tell me it isn’t necessary and there are other means of achieving change, but there really isn’t. The system saw Ukip coming a mile off. It knows how to play political judo. The system is rigged for stability. That is part of its merit. But when it has been captured by an occupying force, we have no other choice. As much as the right-on, mustn’t offend, must not act in the national interest mentality has completely consumed DfID, the intellectual stultification that comes with it is widespread.

It goes hand in hand with the political correctness of the left to the point where a shadow minister must resign for the criminal act of telling the truth. When Westminster is more concerned with Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee than systemic child abuse it becomes a matter of urgency to clear the lot of them out – no matter the cost. Make no mistake, this is a revolution and if it does not succeed then the UK will be consumed by the narcissism and venality of the establishment to the point where nothing functions. By the looks of things we may be too late.

Re-taking our place in the world

At least a third of voters always planned on leaving the EU and were not going to be persuaded otherwise. This didn’t happen on the back of something written on a bus. This was cumulative. For many the final straw was the Lisbon Treaty which was in effect an EU constitution giving it a legal personality in world affairs.

For something that so radically changed our relationship with what was (and still is) viewed as a trade relationship, it should have been put to a referendum. That our political establishment set about ratifying it, using any means at their disposal to dodge a referendum, was evidence of a political establishment which had long since given up any sense of obligation to seek consent when acting in regard to the EU.

What compounds that act was the fact that those who voted for it had very little idea what they were agreeing to. Remainers often complain that there was no impact assessment for Brexit, yet where was the comprehensive national debate over ratifying Lisbon?

We leavers warned that Lisbon would make EU membership all but impossible to reverse – and to an extent we were right. Brexit is no easy feat – and to do it properly will take more than a decade. Our main concern at the time was that the EU is a long term project which gathers its powers by stealth, creeping ever more toward a federalist entity.

Where possible I have tended to avoid the term “European superstate” largely because that kind of terminology lands you in kipper territory where that kind of hackneyed rhetoric is an instant turn off. But that is exactly what the EU is and though remainers can nominally say that we retain our sovereignty, the question is over what? – and for how much longer?

In that regard you have to look up the chain to see how this affects the UK. As we continue to argue, the centre of the regulatory universe is increasingly Geneva, not Brussels – where the WTO TBT agreement provides the foundation of a global regulatory union.

Critics point out that implementation of this is hotly disputed and that its installation is piecemeal and subject to a number of registered exceptions, but like the EU, it is not the status quo that concerns us, rather it is the direction of travel.

While I have always been opposed to trade being an occupied field, the nature of trade agreements is changing, encompassing ever more regulatory measures extending far beyond what we would traditionally call a trade barrier. In order to eliminate distortions in labour, for example the shipping industry using Filipino slave labour, we increasingly adopt International Labour Organisation conventions in trade agreements.

Superficially there is no reason for alarm but what this means in practice is that for the EU to continue with trade exclusivity it must assume exclusive competence over areas not traditionally concerned with trade. In order to tie up these loose ends and overlaps there will eventually be a need for a new EU treaty which involves another substantial transfer of powers. But in the meantime, the ECJ will be the instrument of integration, confiscating ever more powers by the back door.

The eventual destination in this is the deletion of EU member states as independent actors on any of the global forums, with access to them controlled exclusively by Brussels. We would no longer have a voice in our own right and being bound to the EU customs code we would cease to be an independent country in all the ways that matter. This, to me, is why Brexit is absolutely necessary and the high price is one worth paying.

Remainers would argue that we still maintain significant influence by way of being an EU member. Superficially this is correct and Brexit will, temporarily, lead to a loss of influence. But whose influence is it anyway? We are told that the UK was instrumental in pushing for EU expansion. That remains a bad idea and accession states will remain in a state of limbo until such a point as there is a major political or financial crisis – or they leave of their own accord.

But this goes back to the opening premise. It’s no good to say that we have influence in Europe if we have no influence over our government. What remainers say when they say “we” have influence, they mean our permissive, unaccountable, political élites have influence – but actually only in those instances where their ambitions are in alignment with the ideology of the EU.

As much as Brexit is about severing the political integration of the EU, it is also a slapdown for our political class who have never had any intention of seeking consent – and where the EU is concerned, will tell any lie to that end.

In a lot of respects the classic arguments against the EU are legacy complaints where the damage cannot be undone. Leaving the EU does not reverse or remedy what was done to us and for the most part the UK has adapted to the new paradigm. What concerns us is whether there are the necessary safeguards to prevent yet more sweeping changes in the face of globalisation.

We are told that trade liberalisation is good for us – and on a philosophical and technical level I’m not going to argue, but on the human level, it has consequences that directly impact our lives.  This is something we should have a say in, be it opening our markets to American agriculture or letting market forces eat away at our steel industry. There are strategic concerns as well as the economic – and a dogmatic adherence to the principles of free trade is dangerous.

In recent times we have seen EU trade deals derailed because of concerns like chlorine washed chickens, but one suspects this is largely motivated by an inherent anti-Americanism, and were these topics included in any other trade agreement, nobody would have ever uttered the phrase “chlorinated chicken” – and we’d already be eating it.

The fact is that too much is going on out of sight and out of mind. Brexit is a remedy to that. We have already seen a robust debate on the shape of a future UK-US agreement and I fully expect other deals to come under similar scrutiny. I know the powerful UK agriculture lobby will be watching very closely indeed.

As much as Brexit is necessary as a defensive measure against hyper-globalisation, it is also about restoring the UK as an independent actor. As far as most people are concerned, foreign policy is just who we decide who to drop bombs on and who to dole out humanitarian aid. This is what happens when trade, a crucial element of foreign policy, is broken out of policy making and farmed out to the EU. It leaves all the strands of foreign policy happening in abstract to any coherent agenda while removing one of the more useful leverage tools.

Brexit is a means of reintegrating all of these separate strands so that we can have an effective presence on the world stage without seeking a convoluted compromise through Brussels – assuming we can get permission to act at all. The best part of it is that it does not preclude close cooperation with the EU. Obviously Brexit does not give us a free hand and our legacy ties with the EU will be a constraint, but it opens the way for more imaginative approaches than cumbersome EU FTAs.

One overlooked facet of the Brexit debate is that it gives us the opportunity to reconfigure a lot of the agreements we already have via the EU. In most respects, carrying over EU deals need not be a great headache, not least since we are maintaining existing schedules – but it’s the extras we can reappraise. In the EU-Singapore agreement there is a dedicated section on renewable energy – largely reproducing WTO tract. We could either enhance or delete these sections, establishing new joint ventures and working parities, including a number of sectors not touched on by the EU.

This need not happen in competition with the EU, rather it can be a complimentary strategy where one of Europe’s trading powers is free to explore avenues which could potentially benefit all of the EU. Having a major trading nation not bound by the bureaucratic inertia of the EU could well be a secret weapon for Brussels. That would make future EU-UK relations a strategic partnership rather than a subordinate relationship. There is no reason why Brexit cannot be mutually beneficial. All it takes is a little bit of vision.

Look who’s talking!

A worthwhile article on rare.us gives us some insight into Brexit by asking “How could so many be furious over a female Doctor Who?”. The answer is, they’re not. The author says “I decided to go in search of this misogynistic outrage mob, only to find that it existed mostly in the imaginations of the people mocking it”. This largely confirms what we already know. No-one really cares. This is the fuel of today’s culture wars. Pre-emptive reaction to and satisfaction in the other’s side’s anticipated reaction.

This is interesting because it extends right across the issue spectrum. I’ve seen this exact dynamic mocking a cardboard cut-out Brexiteer who, as far as the wider populace is concerned, doesn’t exist save for a few high profile loonies they coalesce around and elevate to the status of typical. 

The dynamic creates a hyper self-congratulatory, smug and sanctimonious bubble, personified by Nick Cohen and Matthew Parris, spawning their own little bands of acolytes and fan boys on Twitter. Since other hacks lower down in the pecking order like to be in with the gang so as to appear clever, you get a groupthink unable to see outside the walls of its self-satisfaction. And then they wonder why they lost the referendum.

To a point it’s all fair game in that you have the Leave.EU idiots but they speak only to a sub-sect of what was the Ukip vote – which at last polling was far less than 52%. Closer to 6% one suspects. Still, there is enough low hanging fruit to go after.

As much as anything, though, it betrays the intellectual dishonesty of the remain crowd in that there are perfectly well reasoned arguments for Brexit, encompassing issues where even the FT hacks dare not tread. This all contributes to the mythos of Brexit where the silent leavers are left unrepresented and left patiently to endure the ongoing insults. The stereotype of the stupid Brexiteer is well deserved if Brexit ministers are anything to go by but the people very often show more wisdom than those they elect. The on-going condescension is a stark reminder of why it is necessary to put these people in their place.

There are plenty of leavers who are well aware that Brexit comes with trade-offs, who aren’t obsessed with immigration and recognise the need for a transition. Certainly everyone I campaigned with was aware Brexit would have economic consequences but made the decision on balance.  

In this respect, remainers have a little cult of their own going on, mocking the straw man Brexiteer but dishonestly refusing to engage on a more sophisticated level. Certainly the globalisation of regulation is an issue they will go to any lengths to avoid – not least because it is complex, but also because it opens up a debate about the world beyond Brussels which they cannot admit exists or their entire worldview starts to fall apart. The most we get is a nod from the FT to the “Brussels Effect” which they have only half understood – and as to the ecosystem of private authorities they wouldn’t know where to begin.

Over the next few months we can expect a torrent of gloating articles pointing out how many areas of governance will be locked into the existing régime. We are probably looking at being tied to EU tariff rates for a long time to come, and we will likely have to maintain the status quo in agriculture for ten years at least until we have taken full control of our customs régime. This is all besides the point. The fact is, the separation process will mean we have to keep a high level of conformity but this is about ending EU political integration and engineering the EU out of domestic decision making. Nobody was expecting anything to change overnight. They can gloat all they like, but outside the bubble, it is they who look foolish.

Britain needs to play it smarter

There is some chatter on the web as to whether Brexit can be parked. Personally I don’t see that happening. Call it a hunch but I think the process has taken on a life of its own independent of the politicians and they lack the coherence to influence it in either direction. I can, however, see Brexit transmogrifying into something that is neither Brexit nor EU membership.

The repeal bill process is not an afternoon at the photocopier. It’s a major feat of legal engineering and it is going to take years. We can pass certain bills that technically mean we have left but the Brexit limbo could be of such a composition where making the final switchover in various sectors, ending EU supremacy, would be viewed as so destructive that it would go into some sort of review, much like TTIP has, where it exists as a concept but it’s not actually going anywhere until it’s taken off the shelf and dusted down.

We have heard much about the possibility of an accidental Brexit where we crash out without a deal, but there is also a possibility of “accidental remain” where our lack of direction and inability to agree on anything leaves it hanging in the wind.

The only way I see to avoid this fate is for the government to face the reality that the EEA is the fastest and most practical means of leaving the EU. It doesn’t matter if the EEA is suboptimal. It has the singular merit of being out of the EU.

We can quibble until the end of time over the various compromises the UK would have to make but since the advent of the WTO agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade there is little likelihood of reaching that elusive regulatory sovereignty. That issue we can address later. To my mind it is secondary to ending EU political union.

If we do not want to drift into a Brexit limbo then we need to see some decisive action from the government. All we are seeing right now is dithering, pretending it’s all there for the taking when what we’re actually doing is reinventing the wheel – and a poor copy at that.

The basic mistake is the belief that the Brexit process itself is the opportunity to do everything all at once. This is a classic misnomer. If anything the Article 50 process is a lengthy admin chore we must go through before we can start looking at systemic reforms. The only safe and sensible way to leave is by reverse engineering our membership and that means the first step has to be quite close to EU membership. It wouldn’t even matter if post-Brexit absolutely nothing had changed. What matters is that, having completed Article 50, we would have the power to start changing things on our own schedule.

This is the bit where us leavers need to get real. All of us have a strong dislike of the EU, but we cannot say that everything about economic integration is bad. What matters is that we preserve what is worth keeping and build on it. It would be a grave mistake to sacrifice any European trade in the belief that trading with the rest of the world will compensate. It really won’t.

That though, is going to require some adaptation to our ideas. Like it or not, the EU has us over a barrel. As the regional regulatory superpower it does call the shots, and since the EU has a number of other countries hooked into regulatory harmonisation by way of FTAs we are going to find the wiggle room for an independent UK régime will be next to nil.

Ultimately we are going to have to change our attitude to the EU in order to make a success of it. The hostile and confrontational tone is not doing us any good and it’s dangerous because we will need the EU’s extensive assistance in borrowing their third party cooperation agreements and trade deals. Secondly, since we won’t be going all out for regulatory sovereignty, our trade policy will have to be a collaborative and complementary policy to that of the EU.

As we have seen the EU likes to get bogged down in deep and comprehensive bundled deals which take a number of years and very often get tied up in technical detail at the last minute over soft cheeses or formaldehyde content in furniture. Despite this method causing a number of hang-ups for CETA and the demise of TTIP, they don’t seem to have learned. There are other ways.

What we can do is look at effects based trade policy. As a foreign policy objective we want to reduce the push factors that drive migration. In order to do that we need to get the poorest countries trading. We are told by Suella Fernandes that Brexit means we can reduce tariffs for Lesser Developed Countries. This fails on three counts in that for a long time the UK will maintain the existing tariff schedules, LDC’s already have tariff free access under the Anything But Arms agreement – and finally, it’s non-tariff barriers which stand in the way.

Ultimately LDCs struggle to meet stringent standards. Jacob Rees-Mogg and the likes would have it that we can trade away our safety standards but that invites a deluge of counterfeit and dangerous goods. Consumers won’t wear it. Our mission is to use our aid budget for technical assistance to ensure that they can meet regulatory requirements for export. Not only does that improve their ability to trade with the UK it gives them access to the European market as well.

Effectively we would be improving access to the single market for everyone. The benefit to us is the eventual slowdown in migration but also more trade means more opportunities for UK fintech and business services. Something our economy is geared toward in ways that France and Germany are not.

By acting in this way we have no real need to get bogged down in comprehensive bilateral talks as the EU does. What matters is we are enabling trade and paving the way for the EU to forge deals, to which we can be a party. Sector by sector we can improve the viability of African trade at a speed the EU is incapable of.

As much as this approach is in the cooperative spirit, little by little it removes the EU’s excuses for excluding poorer countries and in so doing we make allies and friends with countries with whom we cooperate. From there we can forge sectoral alliances to further pressure the EU into liberalisation and perhaps changing its stagnant trade practices.

All of this is quite futile though if we maintain an adversarial attitude to the EU. If we leave the single market we actually surrender an ace in the hole for our trade strategy while also losing the opportunity to expand and enhance it – and wrest it out of EU control. Moving entirely out of the EU sphere leaves us hobbled in Europe and pecking at scraps elsewhere.

I wish I could report otherwise but it’s time eurosceptics faced facts. The world got complicated while we were in our EU slumber. The beast we helped create is a power in its own right with its own gravitational pull. What is done cannot be undone. What we can do is leverage our position as an agile free trading country to strengthen the global rules based system and drag the EU out of its protectionist instincts. If we can do that we solve a number of problems not only for the UK but Europe as a whole.

Photo by (Mick Baker)rooster

Drifting in Brexit Limbo

It is still government policy to seek a comprehensive partnership agreement with the EU as a third country. Already we are seeing lobbying for pharmaceuticals to continue participating in the single market. The government will concede on this if it does not want to lose our pharmaceuticals industry. No doubt our aviation sector will want to continue participating on more or less the same terms. We will be seeking to ensure manufactured goods and foodstuffs travel unhindered into the EU. The automotive sector will push for whatever it can get to avoid tariffs and rules of origin. And so on and so forth.

By the time this government gets as far as negotiating our future relationship, it will have a long list of things it wants to keep the same. We will also find that the practicalities of intricate policies mean that change is barely possible and largely undesirable. This sets the stage for a long and drawn out negotiation as to our future relationship.

But this time it will dawn on even the thickest of MPs that an interim agreement is necessary. That in itself would be a serious and lengthy undertaking. That is precisely why it is not going to happen. Why should the EU commit ever more of its runtime to negotiating two comprehensive and complex packages – one of which being time limited? The ultimatum will that be that we either drop out with no deal or stay in the EU on more or less the same terms until a future agreement can be concluded.

That is, of course, unless we move into the EEA/Efta position in order to expedite our exit. We will probably find this in itself is a major diplomatic and legal undertaking and once that is done we will find there is actually no point in reinventing the wheel, nor is there any particular obligation for the EU to bother. Moreover, Efta states have little to gain from the disruption for what is only a temporary arrangement. Their view will likely be that we’re either in or out.

It therefore seems obvious that the EEA should be our first port of call with a view to being a long term part of the single market, using the systems within the EEA agreement to tailor it to our needs. The alternative is to stay in the EU in a Brexit limbo, slowly bleeding from uncertainty only for us to pass some years later into an inferior relationship that we will have to rebuild over many years.

It would appear, however, that this realisation eludes the powers that be, and thanks to the power vacuum at the heart of government, we can expect this to drag on, feeding the uncertainty and eroding our choices. With all of our political capital spent, with our minuscule leverage squandered, we will be forced to take whatever we are given. That may even be a conversion of the interim EU membership into the permanent status of being a non-voting member. Precisely where we didn’t want to be.

It was always The Leave Alliance view that the EEA was suboptimal but it does have the chief merit of getting us out of the EU. We also took the view that the EEA, preserving most of the trade integration, would save us from the damage caused by uncertainty and the economic impact of leaving would be manageable. It seems, though, that this message, having met fierce resistance, will not get through.

Though the ultra Brexiteers share some considerable blame, it is as much the fault of the media who have been unable to grasp the mechanics of Brexit, along with a government which is impervious to messages from the outside. Ultimately this is the result of two factors.

The hard right of the Tory party are wedded to some woefully simplistic ideas as to how trade is done, taking their advice from Legatum Institute who will tell them pretty much whatever they want to hear if it means they get their feet under the table. Collectively they are fixated with tariffs and are unable to see the larger picture, treating non tariff barriers and regulatory systems as a mere afterthought.

In normal circumstances we would have a sufficiently competent media who could rip through this self-delusion, but having pruned their experience journalists, the closest the media gets to expertise is the Financial Times, itself incapable of bringing any clarity to the debate and largely tainted by a metropolitan bias. It has not earned the right to be heeded.

The second factor is that having deleted the discipline of trade from our political horizons by way of being in the EU we simply don’t have an institutional memory of it and our politicians haven’t in any way been connected with the real business of international trade negotiations. This is why we should never have joined.

Further still our post Brexit trade policy will be inept largely because it is viewed as a separate undertaking from politics, foreign policy and international development aid. It stands as an abstract pursuit, largely geared toward the maximisation of trade volumes, divorced from cultural and political objectives. It is an entirely technocratic domain.

Ultimately, Brexit is a mess of difficult choices and trade-offs between commerce and sovereignty. The EU is an elaborate and complex web of rules, many of them protectionist where moving to the other side of those defensive measures harms us considerably. As much as it is difficult to prove that new trade deals will compensate for lost EU trade, the EU has ways of making sure that they won’t. Rules of Origin being one of them. These are the realities we must face up to.

And herein lies the problem. For Conservative leavers who believe in “free trade”, Brexit is an economic venture and a chance to snub the EU. They fail to take account of the fact that the EU is a regulatory and economic superpower and the UK is not. They are working from a faulty definition of free trade and are failing to look at the bigger picture. This is why Brexit will hurt far more than it was ever meant to.

For us realists Brexit was never an economic silver bullet. The Leave Alliance was keen to point out that Brexit would be a process and that there would be an economic cost. The point though, was to end political union with the EU and to put the brakes on “ever closer union”. That is our first objective and the most important one. To end the supremacy of the EU in British affairs and to repatriate decision making. If we can make a good go of trade then that is a happy outcome, but that is more a long term concern. Our first priority is to get out of the EU with our hide intact and to ensure that we do not burn our bridges.

The chances of that now seem ever more remote. The appointment of Steve Baker as junior Brexit secretary, a man who calls for the EU to be “wholly torn down” is entirely the wrong message to send. Not least since he is a devotee of Legatum’s panglossian nonsense. Thanks to the obstinacy and ignorance of the ultra-Brexiteers, Brexit is going to hurt a lot more than it ever should have – if we manage to get out at all.

 

Photo by Smabs Sputzer