There is no getting around it, leaving the EU is complicated. Those who wish to deny the complexity involved in decoupling British institutions from 40 years of political and economic integration are either fools or knaves.
Why then, one has to ask, are there so many Brexiteers—that is, those who are committed to leaving the EU—who insist upon raising what is already an extraordinarily high bar still higher?
The most common culprits are what might politely be called “UKIP-types”, who insist that Britain’s high-levels of inward migration be addressed on day one, immediately post-Brexit.
These people are falling foul of several fallacies: firstly, the majority of immigrants are not arriving as a result of any “freedom of movement” provisions seeing as they travel to Britain from non-EEA states; secondly, these “UKIP-types” are implicitly invoking what Dr Richard North has dubbed the “better deal” fallacy, which assumes that Britain would be able to negotiate equal Single Market access to existing EU Member States without accepting “freedom of movement” provisions.
Whether this is desireable is less relevant than the fact that it is not achievable. The EU will not negotiate a “better deal” with Britain as part of the Article 50 Brexit agreement. The best that Britain can expect in terms of Single Market access is essentially (though not exactly) the “same deal” that currently pertains—and we should take it, not because it is ideal, but because the real prize is leaving the EU and putting the country back on the path to full global engagement and independent self-government.
However, there is yet another fallacy from which Brexiteers should refrain and that is what I will call the “flying horse” fallacy. The fallacy is patterned after a characteristically apposite remark from The Boiling Frog, explaining why Brexit is necessarily a structured process: In a horse race, the jockies jump each fence one at a time. This is challenging. It requires training, discipline and skill. But, if the fences are stacked one on top of the other, the only way to make the jump is with a flying horse.
By emphasising the idea that Brexit should immediately address issues such as immigration or energy or climate change policy, Brexiteers are in effect stacking the fences one on top of the other and in so doing creating the demand for a flying horse. I shall attempt to apply the discipline that I recommend here and—at least as part of this blog—refrain from expressing distinct views regarding these issues during the referendum debate. Britain’s EU membership is, at its heart, a constitutional issue that asks the fundamental question: Who governs Britain? Other issues, even those as important as immigration, are secondary.
The British people cannot take control of the policy-making framework without first making it abundantly clear to the government, the politicians and the legacy media, along with their fellow countrymen and countrywomen, that supranational (“above the nation”) EU governance is fundamentally unacceptable for Britain—and always will be.
Contrary to those who say that the “sunlit uplands” then await, a successful vote to leave the EU will be when the real work will begin. Post-Brexit we will need to rebuild the policy-making framework in order that governmental action in a wide range of policy areas presently designated “EU competencies” are brought under the control of the British people and become part of the “national conversation” once again. This, among other reasons, is why Brexit should be thought of not as an event but as a process—not Brexit but Flexcit—that can be taken one pragmatic step at a time.