Thinking For Ourselves

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The Guardian today carries this slightly equivocal anti-Brexit piece written by Andrew Graham. The thesis is one that we have heard a hundred different variants on during the course of the campaign: leaving the EU would diminish British influence in the world.

This is so obviously untrue that refuting it seems almost unnecessary. The EU benefits from Parliament passing policy-making power—and a degree of responsibility for the nation’s international representation—over the heads of the British people to supranational institutions which are not in any real sense of the word democratic.

The upside for all of us of Britain’s national governance being mediated through the EU rather than through politicians who we can hold to account in our democratically elected national parliament is far less clear.

I would put it to you that the trade-offs Britain makes in terms of the autonomy, agility and accountability of our domestic politics are not worth the candle. National democracy is designed to be self-correcting whereas EU governance is designed to remove policy-making power and democratic safeguards from traditional nation-states.

The article begins reasonably enough.

Almost everyone agrees that the EU is not working well. It is also true that on almost any scenario, whether we are in or out, this region will remain our biggest and closest market. Whether it thrives or not is, or should be, of fundamental interest to us. All that matters is whether it thrives more or less by the UK being out or in.

In fact, an earlier post of mine, in which I argue almost the opposite case to Andrew Graham, begins with a similar rejoinder:

The EU is in a pretty bad way. Leavers and Remainers agree on that much, I think.

So, we do indeed agree on that much it seems. Where we begin to disagree is when Mr Graham says, “All that matters is whether it [the EU] thrives more or less by the UK being out or in”. Certainly the rest of Europe doing well is in Britain’s interests, but the suggestion that “all that matters” is the success or otherwise of the EU neglects to address the enormous political question with which the United Kingdom is faced: independent self-governance or supranational subordination?

Should Britain and the British people have the power to hold policy-makers to account in democratic elections which can change the government and with that the direction of the country every four to five years (now every five years under the Fixed Term Parliament Act) or should we accept the authority of a supranational government in which Britain is a constituent part but no longer the supreme law-making authority in the British Isles?

Returning to the case that Mr Graham makes. He continues:

For some, the only way to reform the EU is to break it up by our exit. The optimism of such a view is impressive. History is hardly littered with good examples of destruction leading smoothly to regeneration. Fine, perhaps, for the rich and powerful, who can, and will, ride out the many bumps along the way. But if you have few resources to fall back on and/or need to work, it is a risk you might prefer to avoid.

Once again, I agree with most of that. However, I do not foresee the break-up of the EU if Britain leaves. This report in The Telegraph indicates that “senior diplomatic sources” are increasingly resigned to the prospect of Britain leaving the EU, but they are not prepared to offer further concessions.

This is the kind of pragmatic attitude that one would expect from an official; a far cry from the politicians and journalists who dominate debate in the increasingly disconnected legacy media. The rest of the EU would regard Britain leaving with some regret but Britain’s EU membership has been fractious ever since Edward Heath lied in order to take Britain into what was then the European Economic Community (EEC).

The Telegraph report goes on to say that increasingly EU officials are insisting that the union will emerge stronger than before if its most reluctant member does choose to withdraw following next week’s vote. The commitment of the other EU Member States to “ever closer union” is and always was far more firm than that of Britain, due in no small part to The Great Deception which generations of British politicians have perpetuated.

The EU is not a trade bloc, it is a government, but still the “remain” camp almost exclusively argues its case on the basis of economics and not politics. The few areas of policy which the “remain” side will promote concern workers rights and environmental protections which are associated with the EU simply because that is the legislative and regulatory portal through which Britain accesses those particular global conventions. Outside of the EU, Britain would still be one of the primary framers of those rules-based frameworks, but it would be for Parliament to decide how said provisions would be coded into law.

Staying with the Telegraph article, the reports of “daily calls between European capitals discussing contingency plans for a Brexit” offer further positive signs that the EU is taking this matter seriously and that a managed transition is in the offing. The quoted source continues:

“[Post-Brexit t]he EU will have found an identity and will have moved forward, deepending in key areas like monetary union and defence”

Precisely the areas of policy in which the UK is not involved and is not likely to be. “The source dismissed Britain as ‘not a player’ in core areas of the EU and said that people in Brussels now believe it will ‘be better to have a reluctant player outside the tent'”. Indeed, relations between Britain and the EU have been strained—largely owing to the deception and self-deception of British MPs and cabinet ministers regarding the fundamental nature of the EU project—for a very long time.

To that end, I sometimes find myself agreeing with statements made by EU officials which other Brexiteers highlight as ‘scare stories’.

Do not get me wrong, some of the statements made by EU officials opposing democracy and the nation-state are truly beyond the pale, but others are simple statements of fact. For instance, the infamous Jean-Claude Junker comment that: “There can be no democratic choice against the EU treaties”. All he is really saying here is that EU Member States are legally bound to uphold the agreement that they have signed. In other words, if you assent to be an EU Member State then the supreme law-making authority in your country is the EU—the European Commission is the executive, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union are the legislature, and the European Court of Justice is the judiciary.

To detour for a moment, that comment is particularly apposite in the case of Britain because it is part of Britain’s political culture to abide by the agreements which we sign. If the agreement is not working in our interest or is not working to advance the public good then we should end the agreement in an orderly fashion. The fact that doing so in the case of the EU is so problematical—made more so by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor’s refusal to engage in rational debate—is again indicative of its unique character in the realm of international affairs.

This is a key reason why the ongoing humbug about “reform” must now stop. Britain and the other EU Member States have a fundamentally different perspective on what the EU is and what the EU should be. Hammering the point home, The Telegraph source says: “Everyone tells us we have given Britain too much, bent the rules too far, they ask us ‘how can you still look at yourself in the mirror’; there is an opt-out for ever closer union and a migration benefits brake.”

This is so far removed from what even “remain” campaigners in the UK, who are now once again proposing that Britain should stay in the EU in order to fight for yet more “reform”, had hoped that the Prime Minister would achieve that there is no way to square that circle. The better option is to abandon the unreality of “reform” and accept that EU structures are not suited to Britain and that they never will be.

Trading and co-operating together does not require common government and nobody can deny it. It is highly irresponsible for the Prime Minister of all people, who one might hope would stand at least a little bit above the fray, to have gone from saying that of course Britain could succeed outside the EU to saying that leaving the EU and the Single Market would “put a bomb under our economy”.

But now, even at this late stage in the campaign, I must turn my ire on Vote Leave. Dominic Cummings’ refusal to recognise the need for transitional arrangements which would safeguard the British economy at the point of exit was entirely needless. A phased transition which recognises the political reality of a “fork in the road” for the eurozone would have made for a much firmer base for a Brexit campaign. Credible reassurance and an alternative vision should have been the Vote Leave watch words.

Not that I personally think—and time may tell on this, when the histories and post-referendum analyses come to be written—Vote Leave has necessarily been a particularly important actor in the rise in support for a “leave” vote. My view is of a piece with that of John Mann, who said on the BBC Daily Politics: “There’s the Vote Leave vs Remain battle and then there’s the real debate in the country”. We shall see, I suppose.

This all throws into sharp relief the next section of The Guardian article: “The alternative view is that the UK could, and should, play its full role as a key leader in reforming the EU.” Frankly, this is absurd. Britain is not in the euro nor Schengen. The idea of Britain “leading” from the periphery is a complete non-starter. It is not a case of “selling ourselves short” to recognise that the EU centres around the eurozone and that outside of that there is no good reason—indeed there are considerable downsides—associated with continuing with an arrangement that takes policy control away from Westminster and Whitehall and substitutes our independent voice and vote at the global level for a “common position” decided by the EU-28 and inevitably dominated by the eurozone core.

Without responsibility for trade, fisheries and agriculture in particular and with a diminished responsibility for foreign and defence policy, which is now partially administered and agreed at EU level, Britain has lost something of the reflex for thinking in terms of our global role.

Outside of the EU, however, joined-up policy-making—which is not possible while Britain has to accept the EU “common position” in trade talks, on global standards-setting bodies and increasingly at the UN—would allow Britain to innovate and introduce new ideas which represent the best that the British people have to offer the world.

Contra David Cameron and George Osborne’s outrageous scare stories, news has been leaking out about civil service plans to leave the EU in a controlled manner. These have even found their way into the legacy press; most notably perhaps on BBC Newsnight.

If you would like to know more about how Britain should and would disengage from EU political union and reorient our relationship with the rest of the EU so that it better suits both Britain and our continental partners, then please dig into the archive on this blog and click-through to the read material produced by the other Leave Alliance bloggers listed in the sidebar.

This is your choice. Get as informed as you can and make what you think is the right choice.

Here are a few selected posts:

What is the EU? — The EU Is A Government

Why we should leave — The EU Is Anti-Democratic

No future “reform” — Remainers Want To Bury Dave’s Dodgy Deal

An important point of information — The EU Is Not The Single Market

Managing the risks — Running Towards Risk

A gradual transition (a process not an event) — A Transition Plan

Rebuilding the policy framework — Self-Governance And Global Engagement

No quick fix — On Immigration

An international perspective — Thinking Beyond The Bubble

A better way to do trade — The Future Is Multilateral Not Supranational

A positive vision — Rediscovering Our Global Voice

The heart of the matter — A Point Of Principle

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