Monday, March 07, 2016

Brexit is the politics of hope

Having faced the horrors of two world wars, our rulers mistakenly thought the eradication of democracy would prevent the rise of popular movements and war. It was an idea born of fear and paranoia. Some forty years after joining what was largely assumed to be a trade bloc, there is now a broad consensus that it doesn't work shared even by those who would have us stay in. It "needs reform" they tell us.

To those of us who have watched the EU for years, learned its political language, its history and its tactics, those words are hollow. We hear the repeated mantras of being leading in Europe and the need to be "at the table" in order to influence it, but what we see in practice is an unreformable institution that couldn't remodel itself if it wanted.

Thus we will see no treaty change, no remodelling of the institutions, no moves to democratise the EU executive, no reform of the interface between member states and global bodies, no opt outs from EU external agreements, no added powers of veto, no real change to freedom of movement, no change in the European Parliament constitution and no new relationship. Not only is our relationship the same as ever it was, the EU remains the same beast throughout.

The prime minister has nothing to show for his efforts. In his own words, addressing the Scottish Conservative conference, he says "In all the things that are so important to us, like the Single Market but carved out of all those things we don’t want any part of. So no euro; no Eurozone bailouts; no European Army; no Schengen open borders; no European superstate. If we left, we would be swapping that certainty for uncertainty."

Weak. Weak. Weak. All he has done is restate things as they are, with a couple of reworked legal instruments, largely unbinding, amounting to absolutely nothing. It should have caused outrage. But having a media so easily distracted, more concerned with the bowel movements of Boris Johnson, they bought the decoy and gave the prime minister a free pass. The negotiations to them are now ancient history as they pick up their next temporary obsessions.

In this, we seasoned EU observers have been wrong-footed. When the prime minister said he was going to attempt reform, we knew he would fail, but we never believed he would expect to walk away with such thin gruel and not be pilloried for it. As transparent as it is, it's a massive insult to our intelligence. But then since it was design for consumption by the media, it wasn't a miscalculation. The clear lesson here is that one should never underestimate the ineptitude of our media.

And so the essence of the PM's message is that we are swapping the status quo for uncertainty. The only tool in their box. Fear. The persistent message of the Remain campaign has bee "nobody really knows what deal UK gets post-Brexit and no existing model seems attractive."

Given that this is likely the last vote we will have for a generation on this issue, there is an instant hole in their argument. The cannot promise us certainty if we stay and they have no idea what Remaining in looks like. They do not know what the next EU wide crisis will be or the response. All we really know, from previous form, is that the response will be a fudge, delivered late, and only after a crisis becomes an emergency. The recurrent symptoms of being an unreformable mess.

And yet somehow, the risible, empty rhetoric, despite the long history of EU failures, is still accepted debating currency. Beggars belief doesn't it? The prime minister will use every opportunity to drop the phrase "reformed Europe" in the same way Osborne repeats "long term economic plan" - but we know this to be entirely hollow and without meaning. Bizarrely, we still have a sizeable constituency of people who believe them.

But what I really dispute is the notion that "no existing model seems attractive". Attraction of course being an entirely relative thing. Otherwise Kim Cardassian wouldn't have a career. To the eurosaurs, the idea of Britain having its own vote and voice at the top tables, asserting its own needs in negotiations, having the right to say no, being in control of fishing, agriculture, energy and environment policy to them is somehow "unattractive".

Breaking free of a stifling and antiquated relic from the last century and stepping up into the global forums to me sounds not only attractive, but also exciting. The possibility of building a global single market and a community of equal voices, none subordinated by corporatist anti-democratic blocs seems to me something wholly ambitious, energising and buoyant.

It seems to me a great deal more attractive than being locked into paralysis of the status quo, with no hint of reform on the horizon. And though we can accept that there will be trade-offs and compromises, the EEA/Efta model, in the very first stage of exit gives us the best of both worlds. Full single market membership but trading autonomy and the right to refuse instructions from Brussels.

And then there's the main selling point. While the model itself maintains the certainty of the single market, it does create uncertainty where uncertainty is needed. Where our future depends very much on how we identify and seize opportunities. This will require businesses break from the euro-parochialism and look outward, monitoring global channels for diplomatic and trading possibilities.

And instead of delegating our aid and trade policy, we can once again take the direct approach, making for a more accountable, more effective trade policy that makes trading partners rather than dependent beneficiaries of the emerging economies. The options are many.

I certainly find that a more enthusing and energising message than the prime minister's message of "can't win, won't try" - living in fear of the bogeyman and scaring half the population into submission. We could instead have a renaissance in diplomacy and a revitalisation of domestic democracy and a new found sense of engagement as we get to choose our own systems of governance and our own spending priorities.

For sure Brexit is not the carte blanche some pretend it is, and there are natural restraints inherent to the proposed solution, but this isn't just about what things look like the day after Brexit. This is about how we learn, grow and evolve out from under the shadow of this redundant twentieth century post-war relic.

In this we embrace the uncertainty and opportunity of the future, being the enterprising souls we have always been. We are a nation of seafarers and explorers, and there is still much to discover about the world and ourselves and we can only hold ourselves back by closing ourselves off from it.

So in the final analysis, when you hear them say "the alternatives don't seem attractive", ask "attractive to whom?". The alternatives don't seem attractive to those peddling fear of change, fear of progress and fear of letting go of the past. It's unattractive to those cynics who believe change is just too complex and too much hassle and "not worth the risk" - and that we wouldn't bother to look after our landscapes and environment without an EU gun to our heads.

These fearful, weedy, pessimistic, tired souls would have us fade quietly into the night, to be subsumed into euro-subordination in the belief that we can't do better and that we shouldn't aspire to more than the persistent mediocrity and incompetence of the EU.

In this referendum, they are the ones in control, they are the ones who have the power and they are asking for your vote for more of the same. So if you're considering voting to remain, you need to ask if more of the same is really what you want and if you really prefer the power residing with these miserablist losers over the British public.

If the public choose to remain in this state of Euro-ennui then I really have little sympathy for the complaints that come thereafter. This is an opportunity of a lifetime and for us to bottle it now makes Britain a place I no longer identify with. And if being grovelling, subservient cowards is what it means to be European, count me out of that too. There is no salvation for a nation that no longer believes it has a right to exist.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Euro-FUD and idle threats

"House of Lords warned EU will punish UK if it votes for Brexit" says

Translation: Europhile (LibDem) MEP says europhile things in a poorly attended select committee meeting. Air-headed histrionics from a zealot. Catherine Bearder to be precise - a europhile's europhile.

The fact is the EU will enter negotiations in good faith to secure continuity of single market access. Why? Because business won't settle for anything less. Nobody wants a petulant trade war, neither side can afford one, and a recession for us is a recession for them - especially while the Euro isn't out of the woods in the midst of a global slowdown. Moreover, the EU is a rules based organisation. There are constraints.

It is inconceivable that that single market access on the same terms would be abandoned. It is not politically possible. The multinationals won't wear anything else.

There are those who suggest that we would leave in a single break, and some who even demand it, but our own civil servants tasked with Brexit will arrive at the very same conclusion we did. It has to be done in stages and that a market solution is the most readily available stop gap measure to minimise the risk.

That then brings us on to the glorious FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) of John McFarlane of BT. He says Brexit would cause "uncertainty" and proceeds to waffle about the European market - which we assume to mean single market. (what else could we infer?). It is our view that if McFarlane's political advisers are uncertain then he needs to fire them.

With so much allegedly hinging on single market continuity, with the Remain camps own propaganda saying it has mutual consequences if it is broken, nobody will allow the worst to happen. We suspect a doddering old europhile like McFarlane is being less than honest.

But then just as thought exercise, it is worth entertaining Catherine Bearder's assertions that the EU will punish us as an example. Does she realise what she is saying? That the EU, in light of an expression of democratic will, would risk EU trade to punish us. As reckless as that is, this is not in the spirit of cooperation and democracy we are frequently told the EU upholds.

Since Ms Bearder is a vocal advocate of the EU, her words must now be watched carefully so that she is reminded when she speaks of EU democracy - she, as an MEP, does not think it likely the EU will uphold those values. Is this really a union we want to be in?

Saturday, January 09, 2016

What Brexit can do for Britain and the world

Many on the Leave side concentrate on the negatives, often resorting to complaints about the cost of being in the EU. For reasons that escape us we see Daniel Hannan bickering with the Remain campaign over intangible numbers that mean very little to the average voter.

We have maintained from the outset that this is a flawed approach to campaigning. Net contribution to the EU budget comes in at less than £10bn and if it were about saving money, there are probably easier ways of finding such savings than trying to tear ourselves away from the EU in one go. For us it has never been about the money. Brexit is about democracy, the future and our place in the world.

In that, the Remain camp have been goading Leavers as to what Brexit looks like. We have been very vocal in our support of the Norway Option as a transitional mechanism to leave the EU. This prompts the fatuous Remain campaigns to reel off the hackneyed remarks from their Norway Option crib sheets.

We are not saying, as they suggest, that we want to be like Norway. We couldn't if we wanted to. We are simply saying that the legal framework through which Norway relates to the EU political entity is as good as any as safe and easy means of departure. We have already seen experts on both sides of the divide saying that the Norway Option is a safe bet that carries little risk - and today HSBC and Barclays have also implied they could wear it as an option.

The Remain camp will likely say that we still have to pay the same and implement all of the laws. The truth, as always, is very different. Having contacted the EFTA Secretariat, which administers the EEA agreement, they report that 10,862 acts have been incorporated into the EEA Agreement since its inception in 1992.

Very often, though, acts repeal other acts, and some acts are time-limited and cease to have an effect. Taking this into account, there are 4,957 acts remaining in force today. By contrast, the very latest count of the EU laws in force (today) stands at 23,076. As a percentage of that number, the EEA acquis of 4,957 acts currently stands at 21 percent. Moreover, Norway does have a veto.

But actually, it wouldn't matter if the percentage was substantially higher. Probably, by now the bulk of the EEA acquis is made up of global/regional standards. It is very difficult to say exactly how much without doing a detailed analysis, but what we can say with certainty is that globalisation is the direction of travel, and in due course, the majority of EU Single Market law will be based on global/regional standards and regulations.

Consequently it comes back to that question of what we want and why do we want it? If the financial savings are marginal and the opportunities for deregulation are few, what is the point? Well, it's about modernity.

While the Remain camp is looking inward at Europe, we are looking at the revolution in global trade. National borders are becoming increasingly irrelevant to trade and we need a regulatory framework that acknowledges this. In that, the removal of non-tariff barriers is the primary concern of the WTO.

We are seeing innovative measures to enhance global trade which require a great many reforms and modernisation programmes. It requires good governance in developing countries that aligns more closely with our own standards. That is why we see the law making agenda moving up the chain. As global standards and regulations mature incrementally we see the emergence of a global single market much larger in size and potential than the EU.

This is where the EU becomes problematic. Rather than accept global standards as they come, they have to go through the EU mill to be poked at, prodded and delayed until they are so mangled at implementation that they become a protectionist wall for European markets and perversely, EU laws become a trade barriers rather than trade facilitators - making it difficult for Africa to sell to Europe.

Rather than embracing the new paradigm, the EU still thinks only EU nations are convergent enough to share regulations and must set the bar for the rest of the world. Well, the rest of the world has caught up while Europe was sleeping and now we can look seriously about breaking our single market wide open so that anybody can participate. This is something the EU instinctively does not want to do.

Thus, our vision is a Britain functioning as a bridge between the EU internal market and the global single market. The EEA/Efta route is the framework by which we maintain the trade links we already enjoy while having the agility to join the global party. Instead of pleading with the EU to acknowledge our concerns with our external trading partners, we can deal directly.

Moreover, with an independent vote and a veto at the global forums where the rules are made, we have unprecedented leverage that we do not enjoy as EU members. This has the advantage of shaking the EU out of its complacency and may persuade it to be more open to the rest of the world. Perhaps even modernise its attitudes to trade negotiations. The EU is all for big bang deals and grand gestures. The rest of the world has been catching up one small step at a time.

In this we can lend our expertise to the global governance universe, leading at the top tables and leading the EU into the new century by example. It's an exciting prospect. We are used to those in the Remain camp saying we Brits want to have our cake and eat it, but we ask, why the hell shouldn't we? What's the point of having a cake if you can't eat it? At present we have a tasty cake right in front of us and we can't even nibble the icing.

The opportunities of the UK being at the very top of decision making, influencing regulatory decision making before regulations even reach the EU ought to be obvious - especially so for investors. Being the first to implement global standards means we are at the forefront of trade and reaping the benefits of the Trade Facilitation Agreement while the same measures are still choked up in the EU talking shop.

Brexit is not about having less regulation. It's about having more influence in how they are made and having a direct line when we want reform. It's about cutting out the middleman and it's about shaping the world as we have always done. It's about breaking out of the little Europe mentality and reforming the European market from the outside - in ways we have never managed in the last forty years of membership.

David Cameron says he wants a reformed EU but if we really want to be leaders in Europe then we need to be off the EU leash - and that is one reform the EU can never grant us. Snatching more power over decision making is in the DNA of the EU. In any case Cameron's not asking to be free of the leash, but if he did, he wouldn't get it. Nobody would. The only way the EU is ever going to reform and modernise is if we drag it kicking and screaming into the modern world. The only possible way to do that is to leave.

This prompts the Remain camp to say that being outside the EU means we are "isolated". This is nonsense. It means being free to choose alliances according to the type of deal on the table. It means building coalitions of common interests and cooperating freely. Sometimes that means choosing our EU allies, other times we may side with India - with whom we have many important cultural and trade links. If anyone is isolated, it's the EU as it cuts itself off from the global markets - breaking with global standards and erecting more regulatory barriers. Brexit is our statement of intent to the world that we want to be in at the top tables and dealing with the bigger market.

We don't want to be in a subordinate relationship with the EU. We do not want to be told what our agenda is by the EU and we do not want our decisions overturned by them. We want to revitalise our domestic politics which has stagnated as we outsourced the critical functions of it. We want to be re-energised so that our politicians are discussing new and bigger ideas rather than resurrecting the politics of the eighties. We want the EU as a partner not a master.

Brexit is about global participation. It is about shortening the chain of accountability and it is about embracing the future. It's also about letting go of the past. The EU was born from the ashes of the two wars that raged across Europe. The world has evolved since and so has trade. The EU suited the old world and it remedied some of our problems. Now we have to set about building a global community of equals and pulling down barriers. We can't do that from behind the walls the EU erects.

In the final analysis, it's a choice between being a subordinate member of a fearful and timid EU or standing as a bridge between the two worlds and getting the best from both. If that costs more than EU membership, so be it. If it means more but better regulation, so be it. What we get is worth far more than anything the EU can offer - and it's the true reform of Europe that Mr Cameron would never get in a hundred years of trying. This is so much bigger than saving a few quid. Let's go!