Sunday, March 12, 2017

Leaving the EU is only half the job


Speaking with The Devil last night, he asked me to pen five basic points as to how we make a success of Brexit. And that is half the problem with Brexit. Everyone concerned wants the inherently complicated made easy. We have a political class which not only doesn't want to be troubled with detail, they will actively avoid any new information that complicates or disturbs narratives.

I could list five broad principles or the five most pressing objectives but that would not do justice to it. Broad principles would likely be motherhood and apple pie stuff we can all agree on but where does that get us? And though there clearly are priority objectives such as the free movement of goods across borders, that doesn't even begin to touch on the wider issues.

More to the point, it's a little late to try and steer the process. Before the end of this month we will likely see Article 50 invoked and the balloon goes up. It's out of our hands. The process is now entirely in the hands of the Tories who think it's a simple case of hammering out an agreement on tariffs and giving the French a swift handbagging over the final bill.

The intel I'm getting is that ministers really do believe their own rhetoric. What you see is what you get, compounded by the most extraordinary ignorance. They will go to Brussels imbued with the idea that "they need us more than we need them" and completely screw it up.

You can't tell these people anything. The only way to be heard inside the bubble is to tell them exactly what they want to hear. Had I spent the last three years making the case that we don't need to pay anything and that WTO rules were perfectly viable and that we can have a bonfire of regulations I expect I would be very popular in the Brexit bubble. Now, with the debate now being so hopelessly polarised, anybody contesting that woefully simplistic view is written off as a remoaner.

But then there is something very familiar about all this isn't there? This is the exact mirror image of the hubris that took us into the EU in the first place. A government so intoxicated with its own rehtoric it will steam ahead, listening to nobody and disregarding any and all words of caution.

Richard Dawkins on Newsnight this week said: "We have no right to condemn future generations to abide, irrevocably, to the transient whims of the present". I quite agree. This is exactly why Lisbon should never have been ratified. But in they went, conniving to dodge democracy and signed us up to this booby trap.

This to me suggests that as much as the EU is a problem, it is only half of the problem and Brexit alone doesn't get close to resolving anything. At the heart of this is a Westminster establishment, which, no matter who is in charge, is accountable to nobody.

And herein lies the hypocrisy of Brexiteers who have been vocal in denouncing "the establishment" only to roll over when that same establishment is singing their tune. Unless we are serious about pressing home meaningful democratic reform then we haven't resolved anything. As soon as the left inevitably take their turn to rule they will abuse the levers of power in exactly the same way.

From Brexiteers we have heard much about "returning powers to Westminster" but it should not be forgotten who it was who handed over powers to Brussels to begin with. More to the point, many of those powers were confiscated from local authorities by Westminster. Consequently the return of powers to Westminster will mean all of the power is in the hands of an entitled born-to-rule political class.

I've been around the block a few times now and I have seen how the system works. If you want influence you need to play the game and suck up to the right people, telling them what they want to hear - and even if you go into Westminster with the best of intentions, the system soon turns you native.

The system is festooned with PPE Oxbridge graduates, fast-tracked know-nothings and LSE policy wonks having done the right unpaid internship, none of whom have any exposure to real life and have never worked what you are I would call a real job. The same dynamic extends to the media where hacks are interchangeable between the Guardian and the Telegraph, each climbing the greasy pole, learning nothing as they go.

The politico-media bubble is an oral culture whereby information is traded over dinner in the form of factoids, where MPs have ever more stresses on their attention to the point where they agree with whoever it was they last spoke to. Trying to affect change at this level is pointless.

It is a culture that prizes conformity over knowledge and loyalty over substance. The system rewards obedience with money and prestige. It's a time honoured means of silencing dissent. The incorruptible, however, are simply unpersoned, bullied and skilfully marginalised.

This is how we end up with a disconnect between the politicians and the people and it is how politics becomes deeply London-centric, self-absorbed and insular - and consequently incapable of engaging in serious politics. Their feeble grasp of Brexit issues is all the proof you need.

And it is so telling that the referendum result was an inchoate howl of rage. Look where it comes from. It's the regions giving London the two fingered salute. Economically, culturally, politically, London is divergent in every conceivable way.

This is ultimately why Brexit needs to happen. The referendum has not divided the country. The country is already fractured. All Brexit has done has exposed the fault lines. And so when it comes to Brexit, we just have to let them get on and make a pig's ear of it because that is all we can do. It is the reckoning that comes after that should concern us.

My own studies lead me to believe that, thanks to the Tory approach to leaving the EU, we are going to be considerably worse off and we will lose a substantial amount of trade with the EU and, by proxy, with the rest of the world as well. This will not be EU obstinacy. This will purely be an act of self-harm, going into talks with unrealistic demands with no functioning knowledge of the EU.

When that happens there is an opportunity afoot. Free of the EU there are no longer any excuses. The buck stops with Westminster. The establishment must now take responsibility for its own failings. If we collectively roll over and make excuses for the Tories (by blaming the EU) then we will squander a once in a generation opportunity to correct a long standing problem. Brexit is a chance to dismantle the ossified structure of Westminster; a system designed before the internet and when MPs faced several days on horseback to meet in the Commons.

The task before is to heal the many rifts that make the UK so fundamentally divided. To that end, Brexit could very well be a window of revolutionary opportunity - to revise, modernise and decentralise government - and break it away from the sordid den of virtue signalling prostitutes in Westminster.

I had hoped to avoid Brexitgeddon, but my hopes fade with every utterance from David Davis and the Brexiteer back-benchers. Success seems unlikely because the ingredients for success are not there. Sceptical voices have been silenced and purged and replaced by soothsaying charlatans seeking consultancy fees, aided and abetted by dogmatic zealots. I think we have lost the capacity to make a success of it.

If however, the outcome of Brexit is a serious examination of how and why Westminster is failing so badly then it is more than just a mere consolation prize. I would value a reunited Britain and a rejuvenated politics over this buccaneering free trade paradise we are promised.

To bring that about we must start a national debate about how we want government to be shaped in the wake of Brexit. We must ensure that the Tories are exposed and brought to account for their hubris and we must mobilise to present new ideas. Unless we make good of this opportunity then we will have wasted the once chance we had for lasting reform. Brexit will have been a total waste of time.

The EU is not so much the cause of our problems. Rather it is a symptom of a deeper malaise, where government wants all of the power but is happy to deflect the responsibility and the blame to the EU. Our EU membership underpins that dynamic - and that is why nothing was ever going to change unless we voted to leave. Now that we have, it would be a travesty to leave the job unfinished. Brexit is a starter for ten, but the real work is only just beginning.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

The analysis of the coming car crash is spot on, but there is a huge flaw. The argument is that we have reached this state because of ignorance (and worse), both in our political class and in the country generally, and that Brexit will force a reckoning. There is not a shred of evidence for this. Those who have brought us to this cliff edge are already blaming the pain to come on the intransigent EU, Gina Miller, the judges and "Remoaners", and that abdication of responsibility is being cheerfully played up every day by the Dacre/ Murdoch press. Who, pray, is going to break into the national consciousness and point the finger where it should be pointed? Not this blog, not any blog, not the BBC, not George Osborne, not the Labour party. Johnson, Gove, Farage are going to do very well out of this. There is no upside to Brexit.

Lord Blagger said...

1. WTO rules.

What you don't get is the WTO rules. Tariffs and barriers ratchet down. Countries that agree to no barriers or tariffs cannot reintroduce them unless both sides agree. The countries are to use the jargon, "bound".

So the EU needs the UK's agreement to change the UK's access to the single market post Brexit.

Why would the UK do that when if the EU imposes barriers, it goes to the WTO and gets penalties on the EU countries involved?

Remember, the WTO and the EU are separate parallel agrements. Both have to be adhered too. Leaving the EU, the EU countries and the UK still have to adhere to the WTO rules [or leave]

2. The EU is not so much the cause of our problems.

It's one of the causes. Don't be naive and think because its not the cause of everything that its not a massive problem.

Why are so many EU nationals fleeing the EZ for the UK?

3. The complexity.

That's the problem. It's complex when it should be simple. Cut the Gordian knot. Make it simple.

4. The EU's big problem is simple again.

The UK doing well out of the EU means others will ask, why are we being screwed? Then it collapses.

5. The biggy is the 12.5 trillion pound debt mountain run up by the state. 10 trillion of that is state and civil service pensions. Hidden off the books so the idiots carry on paying. It's a fraud and the left, lib dems, and Tories will not discuss it.

Nigel Sedgwick said...

PART 1 of 2

"You can't tell these people anything."

From the North family, I find that a bit rich.

"This to me suggests that as much as the EU is a problem, it is only half of the problem and Brexit alone doesn't get close to resolving anything. At the heart of this is a Westminster establishment, which, no matter who is in charge, is accountable to nobody."

Agreed in part and disagreed in part. The Westminster establishment is indeed a serious problem; however, they have continually used EU policy to circumvent true UK democracy. Accordingly, the EU being one of the foundation stones of bad UK government, BREXIT is essential.

"This is exactly why Lisbon should never have been ratified."

100% agreement on that sentence!

"Unless we are serious about pressing home meaningful democratic reform then we haven't resolved anything. As soon as the left inevitably take their turn to rule they will abuse the levers of power in exactly the same way."

That meaningful democratic reform must start with the return of sovereignty to the UK electorate. You are wrong to object to an elected government (with which you disagree - and so might well I) being allowed to govern. We must live with, and later undo, what representative democracy does wrong. The best way to do this is curtailment of the authority of government - annual elections would be a good start.

"and even if [MPs] go into Westminster with the best of intentions, the system soon turns [them] native."

Which makes annual elections also a valuable continuation. If parliament and government is afeared of the electorate all the time, not just every 5 years, they are much less likely to get out of control. It would also help if election of the head of government were properly separated from election of representatives to constrain that government.

"And it is so telling that the referendum result was an inchoate howl of rage. Look where it comes from."

No howling, nor inchoateness, nor rage in my household: just a serious consideration (including some very interesting and polite discussions with surprised friends). I'm surprised if the Norths did worse on inchoateness!

"It's the regions giving London the two fingered salute."

Oxford, Cambridge, Scotland and Northern Ireland too. Maybe they are all bribed too much.

"Economically, culturally, politically, London is divergent in every conceivable way."

It is a capital city and one of the two A++ world cities; hence cosmopolitan. Look also at Washington DC: I read its 97% Democrat. Shit happens: so live with it (by flushing yearly).

CONTINUED

Nigel Sedgwick said...

PART 2 of 2

"My own studies lead me to believe that, thanks to the Tory approach to leaving the EU, we are going to be considerably worse off and we will lose a substantial amount of trade with the EU and, by proxy, with the rest of the world as well."

Well please share: especially on the "by proxy" bit - which is new to me.

"Brexit is a chance to dismantle the ossified structure of Westminster; a system designed before the internet and when MPs faced several days on horseback to meet in the Commons."

Horses again! Monbiot forgot the electric telegraph, and more. For the MPs, trains come into it too. However, if there is to be a roving parliament, that's fine by me. It will give them time to rebuild the Palace of Westminster, and then decide it is better as a museum.

Anyway, surely it was better when Parliament met less often: certainly taxes (%GDP) were vastly lower. Though that might be a non-causal correlation.

"Sceptical voices have been silenced and purged and replaced by soothsaying charlatans seeking consultancy fees, aided and abetted by dogmatic zealots."

You could have fooled me!

"To bring that about we must start a national debate about how we want government to be shaped in the wake of Brexit."

We have had a serious debate and a serious decision. The North suggestions were in play, with little take-up. In any case, the North approach was (i) for no defined endpoint, just process; (ii) during that process, perhaps for ever, inconsistent with the return of sovereignty - including those little matters of whose law and controlled borders.

Best regards