In The Absence Of Planning

…the conduct of the campaign will not only have an enormous bearing upon the final result but also upon the political environment and incentives that exist post-referendum. In that sense, how we win matters just as much as winning… without a coherent exit plan outlining how Britain would leave the EU, a vote to leave could all too easily become an excuse for yet more “renegotiation” and “reform”.

I wrote those words in October 2015. Now, look at where we find ourselves, in November 2016, having voted to leave the EU.

The idea of “transitional arrangements” is finally being mooted amongst the think-tank crowd. Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform and Anand Menon of UK in a Changing Europe have both put forward alternative proposals which purport to solve the problems associated with the two-year negotiating window granted under the terms of Article 50 (TEU).

Open Britain just hosted an event at which Nick Clegg, Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna called for Britain to remain in the Single Market—and Remain-minded think-tank, British Influence, is proposing to instigate legal proceedings to determine whether leaving the EU necessarily means leaving the EEA (Single Market) as a matter of course.

If that all sounds oddly familiar, there is a reason for that, though I can understand why you may not be able to shake the idea that there is something very wrong with the picture being described.

This blog has long supported Dr Richard North’s proposal for a staged approach to EU exit, encompassing mutually beneficial relations with our European allies and domestic reform to revivify our faulting democracy.

To that end, Phase One of the Flexcit plan outlines how Britain could leave the EU within the two-year Article 50 timeline without suffering undue perturbation in terms of trade. First amongst three linked fallback positions is the idea of rejoining EFTA so as to participate in the EFTA pillar of the EEA agreement. This would immediately remove the European Commission and the European Court of Justice from Britain’s national life, and return policy control over trade, aid, agriculture, fisheries, justice & home affairs, foreign affairs and defence to the UK parliament.

The one thing that recommends the EEA exit route (sub-optimal as it may be) above all other transitional arrangements is that it involves leaving the EU first. Of course a transition is only acceptable provided there is a destination mapped out. The only circumstances under which an apparently necessary interim deal would be acceptable to Brexiteers (this one included) is under the proviso that it leads on to further disentanglement in the future.

The later stages of the Flexcit plan start to discuss these issues, taking us well beyond the bounds of the current legacy debate. The cleverness of what is labelled “Stage Three” of the Flexcit plan derives from the fact that the processes Britain could use to decouple the administration of the Single Market from the EU are already in tow. The WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade is extant. International standards form the basis of a very large proportion of the EEA acquis; the scope for deviation from those standards when shaping associated regulation is limited. The EU is already in the process of losing control of the Single Market.

The comparative “safe harbour” of the EFTA/EEA arrangement would also grant Britain time to enhance its policy-making capabilities. The evidence of the referendum campaigns and the debate that has followed indicate that there is a lot of learning to be done before Britain is ready to act as an independent force in the world.

I have had the idea described back to me in the following terms: First the UK must leave the EU in one piece (an EEA type deal) then the UK must discover/rediscover the art of democratic self-governance and become a fully independent, sovereign nation-state. The second cannot happen without the first and the first is contingent upon the second.

Crucially, the matter of “parliamentary sovereignty”, about which we have heard so much over recent weeks, will need to be properly addressed. It was parliamentary sovereignty that allowed MPs to take Britain into the EU without our consent and to keep us there for the next 43 years, signing one integrating treaty after another. Most of the MPs now in Parliament have no idea what Britain’s role in the EU is supposed to be or even why we ended up in the EU in the first place. The ignorance our elected officials display on a daily basis is truly staggering. Yet, even the low-grade standard of debate surrounding the topic of Brexit makes for a night and day contrast with the absence of discussion that accompanied new EU treaties and policies. The oleaginous, Peter Hain, even had the gall to describe the Treaty of Lisbon (the rebranded EU Constitutional Treaty) as a “tidying-up exercise”.

If this is how we have come to expect our MPs to behave, we are going to have to learn to hold them (and ourselves) to a much higher standard.

Perhaps we could begin with this, written by Kwasi Kwarteng MP, who campaigned to “leave” in the recent referendum. To say that his article is full of errors is an understatement. Frankly, it is an embarrassment. But, that is sadly what I have come to expect of the Tory “eurosceptics”, not one of which had the guts to call out the farcical Vote Leave campaign for attempting to corrupt the honourable cause of national independence and democratic self-government.

At this crucial juncture, as the debate begins to shift to the topic of “transitional arrangements” and what form they should take, the people and groups associated with the Vote Leave campaign are ceding the ground to ineffectual Remainers. Rather than insisting that any interim deal can only be acceptable if it involves, first of all, leaving the EU, and second of all, an alternative destination, the “Tory 60” are instead making non-proposals for unilateral withdrawal and trade on WTO terms. The alternative to a transition deal that takes us out of the EU is a “transition deal” that does not. What side are Tory “eurosceptics” on?

Losing The Plot

The go-to correspondent for reports from the SJW safe space, Sam Hooper, recently published his take on the “post-truth/post-fact” idiom which the political and media establishments in the UK and the USA have pushed since the pro-Brexit referendum victory in Britain and the election of Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, across the Atlantic. The venerable Pete North offers his thoughts on the matter here.

For my part, I find it extraordinary to see politicians and pundits, who still struggle to distinguish between the Single Market and the EU Customs Union, scolding members of the public and the alternative media for challenging the dominance of the increasingly lazy and feckless legacy media old-guard. In spite of being written out of the story (in Britain, in particular), bloggers, YouTubers and other grass roots campaigners undoubtedly played a major role (maybe even a definitive role) in swinging the referendum result towards Brexit.

To that end, this short clip of James O’Brien speaking on LBC distils the deadly combination of arrogance and ignorance which has come to define what some people still mistakenly refer to as the “mainstream” media. O’Brien begins, “What is it, the ten-minute hate? The three-minute hate? What is it in Nineteen Eighty-Four?”

Pause for just a moment. The fact that O’Brien cannot even recall that Orwell’s Oceania has a daily two-minute hate is a tad—I was tempted to say, “ironic”, but I think I shall settle on pathetic. James, if you’re going to lecture other people about publishing inaccurate content it helps if you do some research and get your facts right. Onward.

The amazing thing about Nineteen Eighty-Four is that Orwell presumed that when the totalitarian era began—and he, of course, saw the beginnings of it in Stalin’s Russia—he presumed that the media which just pumps out lies to a completely complacent public, he presumed that media would be built by the government.

At this point, one does begin to wonder if James O’Brien has ever read Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell did not make presumptions about the “totalitarian era” because he did not need to. The book was called, Nineteen Fourty-Eight, until his publisher said that was too controversial. As well as describing Communist tyranny, Nineteen Eighty-Four was a satire on the Hampstead “liberals” and “socialists” Orwell had known and grown to despise; the people of whom Orwell wrote:

Sometimes I look at a Socialist—the intellectual, tract-writing type of Socialist, with his pullover, his fuzzy hair, and his Marxian quotation—and wonder what the devil his motive really is. It is often difficult to believe that it is a love of anybody, especially of the working class, from whom he is of all people the furthest removed.

Back to O’Brien:

He presumed that the manipulative, dishonest media would be created by the manipulative, dishonest politicians. Even George Orwell did not foresee a world in which the population, the punters, the voters would create their own manipulative, dishonest media. Even George Orwell did not foresee how mad things have got in 2016, where an election has been pretty much decided on the other side of the Atlantic, and arguably a referendum has been decided here, based on absolute lies, disseminated by man-made media not government-made media. It was not the state-sponsored, if you will, media that pumped out nonsense.

The polite term for what O’Brien is doing here is “selection bias”. As much as the Vote Leave campaign told tedious, needless and destructive lies, which we in The Leave Alliance called out at every turn and at considerable volume throughout the referendum campaign, the state-supported Remain campaign was no better.

One of the most oft-repeated lies of the Remain campaign was that Norway, a country outside the EU yet inside the Single Market, has “no say” over Single Market rules. This assertion was repeated ad nauseum on BSE literature, on the BBC and by no less a figure than the Prime Minister when speaking to the House of Commons. The essence of the lie is in the use of the word “no”, which denotes a nullity, whereas the fact of the matter is that Norway is an active participant in what is known as the “decision-shaping” process and has full self-representation on global standards-setting bodies.

While the infamous £350 million lie was called out on so many occasions very few people could have been in any doubt that the figure was at best disputed, the “no say” lie, which was repeated with almost equal frequency by the Remainers, was never scrutinised by the BBC or even the government-backed Vote Leave campaign.

There is a phrase among the revolutionaries in the world of Winston Smith, “If there is hope, it lies in the proles”. Citizen-led media is ultimately the only kind that is worthwhile. If the legacy media absents itself from that role, other people will take over.

Once people start making their own media, the next thing you know they’ll be making their own government; of the people, by the people and for the people.

“Our Sovereign Parliament”

The legacy media coverage of the High Court decision to refer the judgement of the British people to the politicians elected to serve the British people emphasises one phrase in particular: “parliamentary sovereignty”.

This is interesting for several reasons. The campaign to leave the EU was not about “restoring” parliamentary sovereignty. Restoring—perhaps one should say, “taking back control”—of parliamentary sovereignty doesn’t make sense because parliamentary sovereignty was never lost. Parliamentary sovereignty was the means by which “British democracy” was made to serve the European Union (and its predecessors) these past 43 years.

The Brexit vote was an exercise in direct democracy—an unmediated expression of the will of the British people.

The political, academic and legacy media establishment, which dismissed as marginal obsessives those people who noted the extent of the economic, political and judicial integration to which the country was subject, are only now beginning to discuss the fact that, according to one report doing the rounds, “the Brexit process will test the UK’s constitutional and legal frameworks and bureaucratic capacities to their limits – and possibly beyond.”

That is about as clear an admission as we are ever likely to get that we were right and they were wrong. Establishment academics, politicians and journalists have been misleading people about the most important issue in British politics for the last four decades—and, in all seriousness, I think that a sincere apology is in order. Those people on the other side of the debate who argued that the EU is only a “trade bloc” (still a persistent refrain) or that the British state is not that integrated into the EU, and that therefore there is little to worry about, should take a long hard look in the mirror.

If the extent of the entanglement that is beginning to be described had been understood and communicated to people at the outset, there is no way that the British people would have given positive assent to UK participation in the EU political and judicial integration process. Parliament, on the other hand, assented to treaty after treaty which handed more and more policy-making power to the EU.

In closing, I think it is also worth noting that, in her statement outside the court room, Gina Miller called for a “proper debate in our sovereign parliament”. Note the use of the word “our”. Where else do we see that?

We had the debate, we made the decision, we don’t need our elected officials to assent to our democratic will.