What to tell your grandchildren

The depths to which the remainiacs are descending is simply staggering. A recent article in The Times to which one of our supporters drew our attention shines the spotlight on a murky group fronted by, among others, the Labour peer Lord Adonis. It will be targeting young people, urging them to tell their grandparents that if they care about their grandchildren, they should reconsider their support for leaving the EU. In other words, they are trying to ferment inter-generational conflict to further their miserable hopes of stopping Brexit.

This “Ring your granny” strategy has a very dubious past. It was apparently used  to build support for same-sex marriage in Ireland.  One of the other promoters is a crackpot by the name of Madeleina Kay, who managed to get herself thrown out of  a Brussels press conference for wearing a superwoman costume! One report claims that her blog features pictures of her posing with pro-EU pond life such as Bob Geldof, Eddie Izzard, and Nick Clegg. Enough said.

Let us be clear:- there are people who either supported Brexit or else who have accepted the result of last year’s referendum who are genuinely concerned about the lack of progress with the negotiations so far. They are worried that a no-deal scenario would be far more damaging than we are being led to believe. The leading figures of this new campaign, however, have a totally different viewpoint. They want us to stay in the EU. They were convinced that Article 50 would never be triggered; when it was, they hoped that  the government would get cold feet and back out. Now reality has dawned that we really are leaving, nothing, it seems, will dissuade them from using every means, fair or foul, to frustrate the democratic result of last year’s referendum.

So, Grannies and Grandpas of this world, what should you do if you receive a phone call from a worried teenage grandchild? Here are a few suggestions:-

  1. Tell them that they should be grateful that the boil has finally been lanced and that over 40 years of our unhappy relationship with Brussels will finally come to an end, meaning that this problem won’t be bequeathed to their generation to sort out.
  2. Tell them that they will be the main beneficiaries. Yes, it may be tough for a year to two before things settle down, but within a generation, free to rebalance our trade with the growing economies of Asia and the Commonwealth rather than the sclerotic EU and free to set our own taxes and tariffs,  we will become more prosperous than if we had stayed in.
  3. Tell them that you can remember the days when we were an independent sovereign country and not only did we manage very well, it was actually better to be ruled by democratically-elected people from our own country than by unelected bureaucrats  in Brussels. Suggest that they stop being myopic and look beyond Europe to Australasia, America and Asia where successful nation states are the norm – and are flourishing. The Brexit vote, in other words, was a vote to re-join normality.
  4. Tell them of our deep love from freedom; how Magna Carta and our Common Law legal system have given us safeguards which are absent even now on much of the continent where Napoleonic inquisitorial legal systems reign supreme. Point out that we would have lost all this before they reached middle age if we had remained in the EU.
  5. Tell them that they will still be able to travel and study abroad. No one is suggesting putting up some sort of drawbridge nor is there any reason why we can’t stay part of the Erasmus scheme.
  6. Tell them that by being able to restrict immigration, it will make life a bit easier for them (albeit only slightly) by removing a little pressure from the housing market and thus helping them to buy their own home.
  7. Tell them to ignore the miserable self-flagellants who are always talking our country down. Remind them of the many events and people from our long history of which we can be proud. Maybe some of them have only been taught tosh in history classes, so a bit of education may be needed here, but what of our great military heroes like Drake, Blake, Nelson and Wellington? Inventors like James Watt, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, John Logie Baird and Tim Berners-Lee? Tell them of Wilberforce and the campaign to eradicate slavery; of Churchill and how we stood alone against Hitler in 1940; of David Livingstone, the great missionary and explorer. The list is endless.
  8. Finally, tell them that you are not going to be around for ever and that one day their generation will have to take over. Warn them that if they continue swallowing all this nonsense from remainiacs, they won’t be fit to run a whelk stall, let alone the country!

A Brexit that will work for nobody

“Brexit means Brexit,” Theresa May famously said on a number of occasions last year, “And I intend it to work for everybody.”  With the half-way point between the referendum vote and Brexit day looming next month, current pronouncements from the Government suggest that on the contrary, we could end up with a Brexit that works for no one.

Our fishermen have good reason to be worried. Unless the Fisheries Regulation 1380/2013 is exempted from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – and there is no sign that this is the Government’s plan – we will end up leaving the Common Fisheries Policy only to revert to what is in effect a shadow CFP, including all the access arrangements which would continue to give away our nation’s resource to the EU. Last week, when asked about fisheries, the Prime Minister said,

“When we leave the European Union, we will be leaving the common fisheries policy. As part of the agreement that we need to enter into for the implementation period, obviously that and other issues will be part of that agreement.”.

While this “implementation period” may exist only in Mrs May’s imagination, she should instead have given an unequivocal statement that upon Brexit, we will not only immediately take full control of our Exclusive Economic Zone, but will not be running it on a quota basis.

At least as far as fisheries is concerned, there is hope that ultimately it will be Michael Gove who determines post-Brexit policy. He has shown himself sympathetic to the plight of our fishermen and his mention of John Ashworth in person during a fringe meeting at the Tory Party Conference is a recognition that the fishing community is running a well-organised campaign that not going to take no for an answer.

Another area of concern is the reluctance of this government to disentangle ourselves from the EU’s military machine. Our friends in Veterans for Britain  were understandably critical of the Government’s recent  “future partnership” paper on defence, which would limit our independence. They also do not want to see is tied in to PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation) a key factor in the EU’s military ambitions to create a defence union. It appears from an earlier briefing put out by VfB that many MPs are still in the dark about the very limited military autonomy with which government ministers plan to allow us. This is unacceptable. As an independent country, our political objectives will inevitably diverge from those of the EU. We will no longer be interested in its empire building in the Balkans or among the former soviet republics. Our defence policy must be disentangled from that of the EU before we leave. If Mrs May is planning a reshuffle, as is widely being rumoured, the appointment of a genuine Brexiteer to  replace the most unsatisfactory Micharl Fallon as Defence Secretary would be a very good move.

We also need to make a clean break with the EU on criminal justice matters.  Torquil Dick-Erikson has raised the issue of the European Arrest Warrant on this website before. We agree with him that it is totally unacceptable for the Government to keep us as a signatory to the EAW and to be a member of Europol. More than that, Torquil has pointed out that the Government has also declared its willingness to allow “special intervention units” from the EU to set foot on British soil, and under a smokescreen of “ensuring security.”

In these three areas – fishing, defence and criminal justice, Brexit must be as “hard” as possible and the Government’s shortcomings will be highlighted over and over again on this website until there is a change of heart. This is not the Brexit we voted for.  As last year’s Vote.Leave slogan said so graphically, it was all about “taking back control”. If our fishing grounds are shared with the EU, our defence is bound up with that of the EU and EU judges still have the power to haul us off to any one of 27 member countries on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations, we are not in control at all.

What is more, these issues must not be swept under the carpet while all the media focus being on trade talks – or rather, the lack of trade talks. Thankfully, as far as trade is concerned, a number of senior figures from industry, supported by a small but growing number of MPs are expressing their concern that the “No deal is better than a bad deal” mantra is unrealistic and dangerous. Leaving the EU without a deal would be a calamity for our economy, even though one recent opinion poll suggested that as many as 74% of voters would prefer this to a supposed “bad deal”. Do they realise that planes would be unable to fly? That the M20 in Kent would be turned into a lorry park overnight?

Of course, it is possible that the Government is engaging in brinkmanship to try to twist the EU’s arm and get it to start trade talks before the three contentious issues of the Irish border, the “divorce bill” and the rights of EU citizens have been agreed, but it is a high-risk strategy and one that looks unlikely to succeed. It is based on a long-standing failure to perceive that the EU is first and foremost a political project, not a trading bloc.

This mistaken perception of the EU’s nature suggests that the transitional arrangement mentioned recently by Mrs May (where we would be able to trade seamlessly with the EU after Brexit in return for being subject to most of the EU’s rules and policed by the European Court of Justice) is mercifully a non-starter.  It is an unsatisfactory pick-and-mix deal which violates the EU’s political integrity while being an extremely bad arrangement for the UK. It remains a mystery why the EEA/EFTA option is still being ruled out of court by all senior government figures when something far worse is being publicly advocated instead.

While no sane person would disagree with the statement by David Davis that Brexit is “the most complex peacetime operation in our history”, it is now nearly 14 months since the referendum vote and we do not yet have any indication that the Government has come up with a strategy which will deliver a satisfactory break with the EU.  Thanks to David Cameron’s ban on allowing the Civil Service to work on any Brexit plan before the  referendum, the Government and Whitehall have found themselves on a sharp learning curve, but some campaigners, such as John Ashworth have been active for 20 years or more and have considerable knowledge their specialist subjects. Why are their recommendations not being adopted? Why, after all this time, is the government still seemingly confused about the difference between the Customs Union and customs clearance agreements? Why has the defence integration continued since the Brexit vote without any consultation with the military, who actually understand the issues?

It does not help when anyone who dares to stick their heads above the parapet and suggest that we are heading for a disaster is labelled a “traitor” – as was the case with Philip Hammond last week. Of course, Mr Hammond supported remain during the referendum and some ardent Brexiteers refuse to believe that anyone who did not campaign for Brexit can possibly be genuinely committed to making it happen, in spite of our own soundings which suggested that most MPs, whatever side they took in the referendum campaign, have accepted the result and will not seek to be obstructive over Brexit. More worryingly, a veteran leave supporter like Christopher Booker, whose pro-Brexit credentials are impeccable, has been tarred with the same brush for expressing concern about the direction of Brexit talks. What is the point in saying things are looking good when there is every evidence that they are not?

There are two very big worries which force concerned Brexiteers like Mr Booker – and indeed, your author – to stick to their guns. The first is that a calamitous Brexit would be grist to the mill of the hard-core remainiacs who have never accepted the result of last year’s referendum. A spike in unemployment and inflation coupled with possible food shortages would lead to calls for us to start negotiations to re-join the EU, even though we would lose our opt-outs on the €uro and Schengen along with the Fontainebleau rebate won for us by Mrs Thatcher. This would be a disaster.

Secondly, it would lead to unprecedented political upheaval. Less than a year ago, some Conservatives were convinced not just that Jeremy Corbyn was unelectable but that the Labour Party was in its death throes. Last June’s election was a rude awakening for the Tories, proving their optimism to be very wide of the mark. The mood at the Party conference was apparently very sombre indeed.

There is good reason for this, as today’s young people in particular are far more likely to support Labour than the Tories, suggesting that far from Corbyn being unelectable, he is likely to become Prime Minister in 2022, bringing with him a team of MPs who are in the main, even more reluctant Brexiteers than the Tories. The best way  – indeed, probably the only way – of avoiding this is for the Tories to deliver a successful Brexit. Analysis of voter intentions suggest that the most popular reason why voters opted for the Conservatives last June was a conviction that they would deliver on Brexit. To betray the voters’ trust  would not just hand over the keys of No. 10 Downing Street to Jeremy Corbyn in 2022; it would produce the biggest crisis in the Conservative Party since the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.

As  Anthony Scholefield, a CIB Committee member, pointed out in his 2011 critique of Cameronism, “Too ‘nice’ to be Tories – how the modernisers have damaged the Conservative party“,  attempts by the Tory leadership since 2005 to reach out to urban touchy-feely politically correct types have served rather to alienate many traditional supporters. As I argued a few years ago, there are plenty of people who genuinely want to vote for what Mrs May famously called a “nasty” party. I was wrong in predicting that Cameron wouldn’t win the 2015 election, but he only won it because he was forced to give in to the mounting pressure within his party to hold a referendum on our membership of the EU. It was the EU issue which also saved Mrs May’s bacon two years later. Given that a good few Tory voters (and indeed activists) still remain most uncomfortable about this move to the supposed centre ground since Cameron became leader, I believe that nothing else can save the Conservatives from calamity in 2022 except a smooth, well-managed and complete Brexit that will enable our businesses to keep trading while at the same time revitalising our fishing industry and freeing us from the clutches of the EU’s military and the EAW.

To put it another way, the Tories have a long list of EU-related sins for which they need to repent collectively, going back to the deceit of Edward Heath in the 1970s. This is their one and only opportunity to make atonement. They created the mess; it is poetic justice that they are being saddled with the task of getting us out of it. If they succeed, the country can move on after over 40 years in our unhappy relationship with Brussels and the party need never again “bang on about Europe”.  If they fail, our country may well end up marking the centenary of the resignation in 1922 of David Lloyd George, the last ever Liberal Prime Minister,  with the resignation of the last ever Conservative Premier. It really is as serious as that

 

Reasonable or unreasonable?

It will have come as no surprise to many keen observers of the Brexit process that the fourth round of talks ended this week ended with Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commision President, saying that it would take a “miracle” for Brexit talks to progress quickly enough to persuade the EU to start discussing a trade deal any time soon. This follows on from Michel Barnier saying the same thing a day earlier.

It is the usual story. An optimistic David Davis speaking of encouraging progress followed by a more negative slant from the EU side.

The divergence in assessing the state of play goes right back to Davis and his team agreeing to the EU’s negotiating schedule, which demanded that progress had to be made on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, the Irish border question and the financial settlement, or so-called divorce bill, before the issues of trade would be discussed.

Was it reasonable or unreasonable for the EU to take the initiative in proposing a schedule? Hard to say. After all, they never wanted us to vote to leave. On the other hand, we were not bound under Article 50 to agree to their schedule, but for better or worse, we did.

So what of the three demands? The size of our divorce settlement was always going to be a contentious issue. Some would argue that we shouldn’t pay a penny after Brexit day while others are willing at least to concede that we should honour our obligations up to the end of the EU’s seven-year budget cycle, which takes up up to 2020. There is a even a huge gap between the EU’s demands and the generous figure which Mrs May has indicated she is willing to pay – £50 billion – and this is higher than the carefully-researched study by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales, which comes out with a figure of  £28 billion, including  spending which has been authorised but not incurred. The EU is unhappy with our foot-dragging, but given that Mrs May’s alleged offer was a generous gesture to try and unblock talks, if it doesn’t satisfy the EU, they are definitely the side who are being unreasonable.

The most unreasonable of all demands is that any agreement regarding the legal status of EU nationals living in the UK after Brexit includes a role for the European Court of Justice. This is quite frankly absurd.  If the UK insisted on UK law and the UK courts determining any aspect of the lives  of UK expats in, say Saudi Arabia, the Saudis would tell us, to quote Boris Johnson (or was it Philip Hollobone?), to “go whistle”. English Common Law means just that – it gives common treatment to all UK residents including non-nationals. We did make an exception in the Middle Ages, with the clergy subject to Canon Law instead and the general population didn’t like it one little bit, especially as monks and priests were able to get away with crimes for which the rest of the population wold be punished. There is no need to create another exception now. Our legal system is fair, with plenty of checks and balances. No EU citizen living over here should feel they are living in a tyrannical, unjust country

The question of the Irish border, however, is another matter.  The Irish republic joined the EEC, as it was, along with the UK in 1973. The two countries’ economies were – indeed, still are – closely linked and for the Irish to have kept out while we joined the European project would have caused immense problems. When the Irish joined the €uro, they did so in the expectation that we would follow suit. We did not, nor have we abandoned imperial measurements as they have. They have consistently elected governments which are led by EU enthusiasts. By contrast, most of our Prime Ministers since 1973 have been at best lukewarm towards the EU apart from Ted Heath and Tony Blair. In spite of these divergences, however, we share a common language, a common genetic ancestry and several hundred years of common history. More importantly as far as Brexit is concerned, we will soon be sharing the only land border between an independent UK and an EU member state.

It is true that the EU as a whole would suffer proportionately less than the UK from our crashing in March 2019 without a trade deal, but some individual states would take a big hit, with Ireland topping the list. No one wants a “hard border” and everyone wants trade to continue to flow freely between the Republic and Northern Ireland but, as Michel Barnier keeps pointing out, we become a “third country” in 18 months’ time. It is one thing to insist that we cannot go back to the days before the Good Friday Agreement but quite another to come up with a workable arrangement which is acceptable to Dublin and Brussels. So far, the EU negotiators have not head anything from their UK counterparts which provides the basis for a future agreement. Their impression is that, 15 months after Brexit, the UK has not got to grips with the issues involved in striking a deal on the Irish border question.  If this is true, there are good grounds for the EU to say we are being unreasonable.

There are other areas, however, where the EU – or at least, some of its senior figures – is being very unreasonable. The over-the-top reaction to Michael Gove’s denunciation of the 1964 London Fisheries Convention is one good example. Another  is the behaviour of José Margallo, the former Spanish Foreign Minister, who has been ramping up the Gibraltar issue, claiming that  Gibraltar will eventually have to welcome dual sovereignty for Spain and  spreading misleading statements about a proposed meeting with Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s Chief minister.

Of course, if, as claimed by one reliable source, staff are quitting the Department for Exiting the European Union “in their droves”, this isn’t getting us any closer to address the issues where some work is obviously needed by the UK side.  There is a good argument to be made that some EU demands are very unreasonable, but equally, a strong case can be made that thus far, our side’s approach to these difficult negotiations has left a lot to be desired.

 

The European Union (withdrawal) Bill 2:- Power grab?

In the first article looking at the European Union Withdrawal Bill, we set out the principle behind it but pointed out that it was impossible for EU regulations and directives to be transferred verbatim onto out statute books. As an example, we used one of the shortest and indeed, most pointless of all Regulations,  the so-called “Cuddly Toy Sheep” Regulation 1462/2006.

The object of this regulation is pretty simple  – that the toy in question may be given the appropriate  classification code for customs purposes. If we were to use the same codes on Brexit and use similar customs checking processes, transposition of this law into domestic law ought to be pretty simple. We remove all references to the Commission, the Treaties and references to Member states, extract the important bits, find a new template, perhaps even using the relevant bits of a piece of pre-1973 legislation, change a few words here and there and Bob’s your uncle! All done.

Actually, no. The Regulation we have been using as an example cross-references another Regulation 2913/92. This reference will have to be changed. Then the regulation which is cross-referenced talks about the Community Customs Code. Even if we were to be as foolish as to seek some sort of customs union with the EU, which we argued was very unwise, this bit will need to be re-worked as the term “Community Customs Code” would not be appropriate to describe the customs arrangements of an ex-member state.

So it is quite apparent that even a simple piece of EU legislation which our Government may wish to retain in a way that it works after Brexit exactly as it did before will need to be re-written in places. Given that in October 2015, the EU acquis amounted to 23,076 pieces of legislation and has grown further since, it is very apparent that our teams of Civil Servants will have a massive task on their hands  if everything will be ready for Brexit day.

If this concept is relatively straightforward to explain, a more complex issue is concept of the superiority of EU law over domestic legislation.  Our accession to the European Union granted power to the EU to introduce or amend legislation superior over British law “without further enactment.” (These three words come verbatim from the European Communities Act 1972.) On leaving the EU, what status do EU laws have relative to earlier domestic legislation? This is not an easy question to answer, even if you are a lawyer.

The concern among both Opposition MPs and the devolved assemblies in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Northern Ireland is that a combination of the re-writing process and the complexity of any new relationship between legislation which originated in Westminster and that which was passed down to us from Brussels will actually change the make-up of our statute books without Parliament being consulted or even being aware.  In other words, the Government  will use the EU (Withdrawal) Bill as an opportunity to further its own political agenda without requiring Parliamentary scrutiny. It certainly does appear to  strengthen the hand of the executive, rather than Parliament, because of the delegated powers it contains.

At the heart of this so-called “power grab” is the use of the Statutory Instrument – a facility which, in certain situations allows the government to make or amend legislation without Parliament having he power to change or even debate it. Given that MPs are our elected representatives, the very existence of anything which allows the democratic process to be bypassed is unsatisfactory. There is, however, a certain irony in the loudest critics of the use of Statutory Instruments being europhiles – after all they support our EU membership which reduced the power of Westminster. Ken Clarke famously said in 1996 ““I look forward to the day when the Westminster Parliament is just a council chamber in Europe” so any new-found commitment to Parliamentary democracy is somewhat hypocritical given the real loyalties of Europhile MPs lie in Brussels, not Westminster.

There is no doubt that Brexit provides us with an opportunity to re-boot our complete democratic process and indeed, this needs to go well beyond giving Parliament greater opportunity to hold the government to account by strengthening its powers of scrutiny. Our democratic process should be re-vamped to give us, the people, greater power over the people we elect to represent us and ot hold them to account if they, individually or collectively, do a bad job.

But that is for the future. The immediate concern of groups like Unlock Democracy is that the sheer complexity of repatriating EU law is that some legislation derived from EU Regulations and Directives may be weakened or lose its force completely. There is another possibility that the amount of work required in re-working all this legislation will end up with ambiguities more by accident than design.

The Hansard Society has come up with three proposals which at least mitigate these concerns:-

  1.  The EU (Withdrawal) Bill should be amended to circumscribe the powers it delegates more tightly.
  2. A new, bespoke, EU (Withdrawal) Order strengthened scrutiny procedure should be introduced for the exercise of the widest delegated powers
  3. A new House of Commons ‘sift and scrutiny’ system – with a dedicated Delegated Legislation Scrutiny Committee – should be established for all delegated legislation

These are eminently sensible suggestions. The only problem is the timescale. We cannot afford to arrive at Brexit day with any gaping holes in our legal system. To take one obvious example – there will be little if any pre-1973 domestic legislation relating to information technology, the Internet or mobile phones. Massive developments have taken place in these fields since we joined what has become the EU. It is therefore very likely that most of the legislation regulation which govern them comes from the EU. If a given piece of EU legislation slips through the net, some important aspects of day-to-day life for many of us would be completely unregulated.

This piece only scratches at the surface of the complexities our politicians and civil servants face. A huge task lies ahead of them and one which is even more critical than securing a trade deal with the EU.

However given we are talking about well over 20,000 items of legislation, are there some which are so obviously inimical to our interests as an independent, sovereign nation that they should be excluded from the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill altogether? We will consider this subject in the next article.

A reasonable divorce bill?

Mrs May, so we were told last Sunday, has decided to agree a £50 billion divorce bill with the EU, although the UK’s Chief negotiator, David David has denied this, saying that it was “complete nonsense”.

Accounts appeared in several papers suggesting that the government would be paying between £7 billion and £17 billion for three years after Brexit, but that payments would cease by 2022 – the year of the next General Election.

There is a sizeable group of Brexit supporters who believe that we should pay absolutely nothing to the EU after we become independent. “Not a a penny to the blackmailers!” says one comment to the article cited above. Others would not take such a hard-line position, maintaining that we should honour our obligations to the end of the current seven-year budget cycle, which ends in 2020.

Whatever, it is hard to justify the figure of £100 billion which the EU is demanding. Our current net budget contribution amounts to somewhere in the order of £10 billion and was not predicted to rise that much up to the end of the EU’s budget cycle or beyond.

Of course, the EU is not only losing a member state but losing a net contributor to the EU budget. In only one year since joining in 1973 has the UK received more money from the EU than in paid in. Günther Oettinger, the EU Commissioner responsible for the budget, reckons that Brexit could make a hole as big as €20 billion in the EU’s finances.

During the last round of Brexit talks, Michel Barnier, the EU’s negotiator, was distinctly unhappy with the UK negotiating team’s three-hour line-by-line rebuttal of the EU’s expensive divorce bill. There does seem, however, little justification for the figure demanded by the EU.

Perhaps the most sober estimate of a reasonable divorce settlement comes from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales. It has produced a report suggesting that the likely cost should end up somewhere between £5 billion and £30 billion. The most likely figure, £15 billion, would equate to be £225 for every person living in the UK in 2019.  This is roughly on a par with our net annual contribution to the EU budget – in other words, how much we pay after the rebate and agricultural subsidies are deducted.

The full report can be downloaded here. It includes spending which has been authorised but not yet incurred, which will be hard to avoid. ICAEW’s study puts this figure at £28 billion.

On the other hand, there are assets which we can cash in. We have a 16% stake in the European Investment Bank, estimated to amount to some £10 billion by 2019. With ownership restricted to EU members, our shareholding will need to be sold.

The authors also indicate that some additional expenditure will be needed to complete the Brexit process. After all,  for one thing, extra staff will need to be employed for what will be complex but one-off negotiations.

The report considers that the most contentious issue may be any ongoing commitment to infrastructure projects in the former Soviet bloc countries. After all, the state of infrastructure in the UK leaves much to be desired and given the claims that some UK workers, including teachers and nurses, are worse off now in real terms than they were five years ago, it would not be unwise for Mr Davis and his team to argue that charity must begin at home.

We have been somewhat critical of certain aspects of the government’s approach to the  Brexit negotiations recently, but when it comes to the divorce settlement, there is no question that it is the EU which is being most unreasonable in the sum it is demanding.

Photo by aronbaker2

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.