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

Are There Any Credible Reasons To Remain?

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The Remainers have had every opportunity to present referendum voters with a positive vision for Britain’s future inside the supranational EU. Yet, I have still not heard a single credible reason to accept that the EU should remain the supreme law-making authority in the British Isles. Everything offered either relates to the Single Market—which non-EU Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein participate in via the EFTA/EEA agreement—or awards credit for achievements that were hard-won by phlegmatic British people down the ages to the EU bureaucracy.

To that end the dismally negative Stronger In campaign has sought to suborn the British people’s battles for workers rights, our proud history of trades union membership, and solidarity between working people more generally; the fight for women’s rights, from the Suffragettes through to Barbara Castle and the Equal Pay Act 1970, and onward to today; as well as our deep seated commitment to environmental protection, and love of the countryside, given poetic form by Shelly, Byron and Wordsworth, and later legal form in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.

What we have witnessed in lieu of a positive future vision is witless abuse, scowling and condescension. Though the words may change, the message is always the same; know your place, the people that matter have already decided for you.

So, it came to be that I found myself reading yet another article written by Simon Tilford, this one petulantly titled, “If we leave the EU, other countries will think we’re a bunch of spoilt children. They’ll be right”. This, ladies and gentleman is what psychologists call “projection”.

Even the thought of Britain leaving the EU—there is still a lot of work to be done—is enough for many people among the Remain contingent to throw their toys out of the pram. Tilford’s article, like so many others, does not make the case for supranational EU government, it is just a litany of self-pity, ennui and despair.

If only everybody else were as “intelligent” or “enlightened” as he. Or could be made to be. Now there is a thought. Why ever address the grubby perspectives of the rabble when supranational institutions above the traditional nation-state can remove the electorate from the equation?

The heart of Tilford’s gripe is the refusal of us lowly plebs to recognise that common government is necessary to access and participate in the Single Market (only, it isn’t):

Although British Eurosceptics are determined to see things differently, the UK does extremely well out of the EU. Thanks to its negotiating skills and brinkmanship it enjoys special status: the country is a full member with unimpeded access to the single market – the most successful bit of the EU – but is not a member of the eurozone, which is without doubt the EU’s greatest failure. The rest of the eurozone has not foisted damaging policies on Britain, as they have on Italy and Greece. Nor is Britain a member of the Schengen passport-free area, though one would be hard put to know this from the hysterical coverage of the refugee crisis in the British press.

Once again we find a Remainer implying that the EU is a trading organisation rather than a government which makes policies for Britain and the other EU Member States— and increasingly seeks to override our independent representation at the international level.

This is also yet another example of a Remainer arguing that the best parts of Britain’s relationship with the EU are the areas in which Britain is less integrated than the other EU Member States. There is a certain logic to that if Tilford cared to follow it to its conclusion.

Remaining in the EU means more remote and less accountable decision-making and if there is a case for imposing a one-size-fits-all policy approach to a vast geographical area as large as the European continent then I have yet to hear it. Indeed, I have not heard anybody in the Remain camp even attempting to make that case.

No, it is all fear, lies and despair. Yet, sometimes in the same sentence as asserting that Britain is too small, too weak and too stupid to exercise the same level of independence as say Suriname, Barbados or Panama, let alone Australia, New Zealand or the USA, Remainers will also say that Britain leaving the EU would bring an end to Western civilisation and provoke a global recession. Where the hell do these people get off telling us that our arguments are not firmly based?

The fact is that Remainers refuse to engage with the best arguments that we have to offer, preferring to spar with the numpties at the heart of Vote Leave.

The rest of the article is yet more tedious and irrelevant allusions to “imperial nostalgia”, as if that means anything to anybody voting in 2016. This is just another rhetorical stick Tilford enjoys using against people with which he is unable to argue.

The article concludes: “The damage Brexit will inflict on the EU and on the broader Western international order will be seen by the EU and the US as an act of strategic vandalism, and the UK will not easily be forgiven for it. The country will rightly be seen as unserious and unreliable.” So here again we have Tilford more concerned about the “damage” that the people of Britain asserting their commitment to nation-state democracy would have upon another sovereign state and a supranational treaty organisation. I am not impressed and nor am I convinced. These petulant bully-boy tactics are really not good enough.

Most countries are not in the EU. The UK has only a limited role in the EU outside of the euro and outside of Schengen and none of the Remainers even attempt to argue otherwise. The purpose of the EU is political and judicial union. Those that wish to amalgamate should be left to do so. Britain will be a far better friend and ally to the EU working as a co-operative partner rather than as a subordinate sub-unit.

Serious countries are self-governing and that is what Britain needs to be.

Reading Comprehension

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Literary comprehension is one of the skills that the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) test as part of the application process for the FCO fast-track programme. Presumably this is because understanding the meaning of words is more important than interpreting what you think the words might imply.

If the response of the British legacy media to the comments of German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, are anything to go by, British journalists would almost universally fail any such test. Reported in Der Spiegel, Schauble’s intervention comes at a time when the idea of using the EEA as a post-exit staging post—which would allow Britain to leave the political and judicial arrangements of the EU while remaining in the Single Market—is beginning to be seriously discussed, in spite of Vote Leave protestations to the contrary.

What the British public may understand but which the Vote Leave campaign and the bubble-based commentariat affect not to is that voting to leave the EU is not the same as electing Vote Leave. Indeed, the rationale that Vote Leave used to use to justify its refusal to present referendum voters with a credible Brexit plan was that only the UK government has the power to determine “what Leave looks like”.

The referendum itself is advisory and the question is commendably specific. There should be no confusion about what the referendum question is asking: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

Post leave vote the position of the UK government will be determined by a parliamentary process and the need to reconcile the two sides of the debate; Leave voters will not call all of the shots and Remain voters will not be ignored. It is their country too.

The need for reconciliation and a positive future relationship with our EU partners points almost ineluctably to a phased approach to EU exit, embracing the idea of transitional arrangements which retain Single Market membership for a time, at least until the UK has had the chance to rebuild its policy-making capabilities in vitally important areas such as trade, aid, agriculture, fisheries, energy, the environment, justice and home affairs.

To that end, what did Schauble actually say? Asked about the possibility of Britain leaving the EU and remaining in the Single Market—as an aside, the fact that this is so frequently raised as a possibility really puts the lie to the idea that the EU and the Single Market are synonymous—Schauble said:

That won’t work. It would require the country to abide by the rules of a club from which it currently wants to withdraw. If the majority in Britain opts for Brexit, that would be a decision against the single market. In is in. Out is out. One has to respect the sovereignty of the British people.

He did not say that an EEA transition would not be available. What he said was that we the British people would not want it. I rather think that we will make our own minds up about that.

The EU will not do Britain any favours in the exit negotiation but it will act in its own self-interest—and the EU has a massive strategic and selfish interest in continuing to trade with Britain on the same terms as today. Provided that we are willing to compromise on freedom of movement in the short-term, there should be little difficulty coming to a suitable transitional arrangement, pending further discussion on a longer-term settlement that is better suited to a country of the size and power of the United Kingdom.

In the event of any “funny business”, Britain would even be able to draw upon the EU treaties. The EU is a rules-based organisation bound by treaty and convention to negotiate in good faith. As part of that, Article 50 commits the EU to “negotiate” with any departing EU Member State; Article 8 commits the EU to a “good neighbourliness” policy “founded on the values of the Union and characterised by close and peaceful relations based on cooperation”; and Article 3 affirms the EU’s committment to promoting “free and fair trade”.

The EU will drive a hard bargain but it will not step outside the framework of its own treaties and there would be consequences for the EU if it did. So, yes, there is a viable post-exit deal which protects Britain’s economic security, jobs and investment, and yes, we can be confident of achieving an amicable separation.

There is no way to get everything that we might want at the point of exit—40 years of political and economic integration could not and should not (read: won’t) be undone overnight—but the opportunity to revitalise British domestic politics and reimagine Britain’s place in the world is too great to ignore.

A confident step into the light of an EFTA/EEA type relationship takes us out of the EU and from there we can carry on reforming our relationship through active participation in the multilateral trading system and through demands for greater democratic accountability at home.

Self-Governance And Global Engagement

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Britain should leave the EU to make our politics more democratic and our government more accountable. Everything else is a sideshow. Whatever the short-term costs may be, there is nothing that could not be managed better by bringing decision-making power closer to the people and through more active engagement at the global level.

To that end, this post seeks to address many of the points that are often raised with respect to the idea of accepting an EFTA/EEA type of trading relationship as part of a post-exit transition to a longer-term settlement.

Cost

Let’s be serious for a moment. Leaving the EU may not result in any immediate cost-savings. The money that we presently pay into the EU budget would be deferred rather than saved and there is every likelihood that the EU would insist upon budget contributions continuing at the current level at least until the start of the next funding round. The UK government has made commitments and it is because of our respect for the rule of law and the sanctity of contract that Britain heads the world soft power index.

In other words, an independent UK would continue to support British agriculture and provide regional development funds to the underdeveloped parts of our own country as well as to post-Communist Eastern Europe. We would also continue to participate in science and social programmes in collaboration with our EU partners.

There may be savings to be made through more efficient administration and reduced bureaucracy, but cost reduction is not a key reason to leave the EU. I’m not sure it would even make my personal top ten “reasons to leave” list. Even if EU membership cost the country only £9.99 a year, I would still want to leave. It is sacrificing self-governance for supranational subordination that I find objectionable, not the membership fee.

Immigration

With regard to immigration, there is much more that the UK government could and should be doing to reduce the “pull factors” that attract such large numbers of people to this country. Properly enforcing occupancy rules at the local level is just one example of a measure that would help to increase the cost of living for migrants to something like the normal level.

These enforcement issues are as much a matter of political will as anything else. A vote to leave the EU would send a strong signal to the UK government to pay serious attention to people’s legitimate concerns. Leaving the EU also places the responsibility for the current policy squarely where it belongs—at the feet of Parliament and the UK government. Politicians would no longer be able to fob voters off with the bogus notion that the EU “makes us” do such and such. EU membership is an active policy choice made by Parliament, something that MPs impose on us, not something that is imposed upon them.

Free of the EU, Britain would also be empowered to take an independent stance in global forums and to table proposals to reform the conventions that are driving mass migration to unsustainable levels. Immigration is a global concern and should be dealt with at that level as well as at the local, national and regional level. The EU’s “common position” restrains the ability of the UK government to act in the British interest and for the common good.

Regulation

The claim that EFTA/EEA member states have “no say” over what are sometimes called “EU rules” is one of the most egregious lies told by the Remain campaign. It would be true to say that Norway, for instance, has “no vote in EU institutions” but that is not the same as having “no say”.

The EEA agreement has a two-pillar structure in which EU and EFTA members participate. EFTA members also play a full role in joint committees and are equal participants in a process known as “decision-shaping”.

In addition, the EEA acquis is one quarter the size of the EU acquis. Upon leaving the EU, Britain would regain policy control over crucial areas such as trade, aid, agriculture, fisheries, energy and the environment. We would also be free to determine our own level of foreign affairs and defence co-operation.

The so-called “emergency measures” contained in the EEA agreement also allow EFTA members to unilaterally suspend any of the four freedoms for a period. This is akin to the “emergency brake” that David Cameron failed to bring back as part of his “renegotiation”—and it does not require the assent of EU institutions in order to use it.

Taking the point about having a say several stages further, the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade has changed everything with respect to regulation. Article 2.4 says: “Where technical regulations are required and relevant international standards exist or their completion is imminent, Members shall use them, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for their technical regulations”. That little word “shall” transforms the relationship between global bodies and the EU, placing independent nation-states at the forefront of the regulatory agenda.

In his Bloomberg speech, David Cameron said: “Our participation in the Single Market, and our ability to help set its rules is the principal reason for our membership of the EU.” The Prime Minister would do well to read my previous post explaining that the EU is not the Single Market. Even more important however is the WTO TBT Agreement and the combined effect of the Vienna and Dresden Agreements which increasingly render the EU obsolete as a vehicle for making our voices heard.

The standards that are translated into Single Market regulations increasingly originate at the global level in bodies such as UNECE, Codex, the ILO, the IMO and the ITU. Independent nation-states have more power in these forums than any EU Member State—all of which are treaty-bound to adopt the EU’s “common position”. The real ‘top tables’ are at the global level and that is where Britain needs to be in order to ensure that British ideas are represented.

Remaining in the EU means sacrificing global power and self-representation in intergovernmental bodies where every vote is respected in return for so-called “influence” in the supranational EU where decisions are taken under a system of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) in which, if you are in the minority, you can be overruled. That really would be resiling from the world and I fear for what would happen to our much diminished political discourse when it is understood that the politicians lied to us in order to hand policy-making power to people who are not accountable to any electorate.

After Brexit the power to make our own trade, aid, agricultural, fisheries, energy and environmental policies would be returned to Parliament. The greater autonomy and agility of our domestic institutions would force British governance to become more adaptable and accountable to the needs of the people. Indeed, with the ability to sack the government back in British hands, we would have a proper say in setting the agenda at both national and local level, and the politicians would have to listen to us. Moreover, we would have no choice but to get real, focusing on policies and not personalities, changing for the better the culture of debate and deliberation that plays such a crucial part in any self-governing democracy.

Beyond EEA

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With the legacy media finally turning its attention to the realities of Brexit—even Newsnight is now name-checking Flexcit—now seems like a good time to look again at the great vistas of opportunity that await a post-exit Britain.

First of all though, one has to address the “criticism”—if one can really call shouting, stamping of feet and pulling of hair critique—that adopting a phased approach to EU exit has ellicited from a portion of the legacy media and the oh-so-tedious legacy campaigns.

It scarcely needs saying, but the Remainers’ feigned concern for the most belligerent voices in the “leave” camp is beyond cynical. The same people who have spent weeks, months, even years, verbally abusing anybody who has expressed the view that immigration is a bit high are now saying that it would be a “betrayal” for the UK government, supported by the House of Commons, to insist upon using the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement as a staging post for disengaging from the EU’s political and judicial union without any of the economic after effects that David Cameron and George Osborne have so irresponsibly exaggerated. Give me a break.

The hysterical reaction of Vote Leave and its associated sycophants is particularly loathsome. That organisation has done everything in its power to prevent the idea of a pragmatic, practical and non-hostile Brexit plan, which addresses the political realities as we find them not as we might like them to be, from taking hold in the public imagination.

In fact, it was not so very long ago that Vote Leave and the MPs and MEPs who support its campaign were saying that what leave looks like would be a matter for the UK government to decide. Moreover, Vote Leave principal Daniel Hannan has said and wrote on more than one occasion that he would be happy if a “vote to leave” resulted in another negotiation, “proper concessions” and “associate membership”. The screams of “betrayal” were non-existent when that was the Vote Leave line.

What it is reported that some MPs are now considering is nothing like as objectionable as the earlier Vote Leave stance. It is in fact what we would expect and would be as good an example as I can recall of Parliament doing what it is there to do in protecting the interests of the British people.

Leaving the EU but remaining in the Single Market—at least over the short- to medium-term—is not only sensible but essential. When you are recovering from a long bout of illness, you do not head out the door on a 10 mile run the moment that you are able to hold your head upright. By remaining part of the EEA, with a transitional agreement on fisheries and agriculture, maintaining most of the cooperation agreements and adopting the entire EU acquis into British law, nothing changes. This is the quickest settlement to negotiate, the least disruptive and the solution most likely to be ratified without a fuss.

This also gives Britain time to rediscover and enhance vital policy-making capabilities. Nobody said self-governance is easy, but the greater autonomy, agility and accountability that our politics will have once we are free of the EU straitjacket makes the process more than worthwhile. The recovery of democratic self-government and the ability to hire and fire our law-makers would give Britain a renewed sense of purpose and solidarity. Co-operation with the continent and countries further afield would of course be part of that.

With an independent trade policy, for instance, Britain could work with like-minded allies such as Australia and New Zealand to develop and enhance the multilateral trading system. So many of the standards which the EU turns into regulations are not made in Brussels anymore. The international body for food hygiene is the Codex Alimentarius Commission based in Rome. The international body for maritime law is the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) based in London. Vehicle standards are made by the World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29), a working party of the Inland Transport Division of the United Nations Commission for Europe (UNECE), based in Geneva.

This alphabet soup of organisations—largely unknown to the general public—produce the rules which the Single Market later adopts. But, because the standards are international in their origin, countries such as Canada, India and the USA are not concerned about having “no say” in the Single Market. Indeed, independent countries have more say than EU Member States when it comes to making their voices heard at the global level.

EU Member States are bound by the Common External Tariff and the Common Commercial Policy, which, under the terms of Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union, empowers the European Commission to speak on behalf of EU Member States in international trade talks and compels EU Member States to adopt the EU’s “common position” on standards-setting bodies at the global level.

This matters now more than ever because of the way in which the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade has turned the EU from a rule-maker into a rule-taker. Article 2.4 says: “Where technical regulations are required and relevant international standards exist or their completion is imminent, Members shall use them, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for their technical regulations”. That little word “shall” transforms the relationship between global bodies and the EU, placing independent nation-states at the forefront of the regulatory agenda. In other words, the real ‘top tables’ are at the global level—and that is where Britain needs to be in order to ensure that British ideas are represented.

Recovering our full power of independent self-representation will enable Britain to move quicker and be more agile when it comes to international trade. Moreover, the “International Model” advanced by UNECE’s WP.6 (Working Party on Regulatory Co-operation and Standardisation Policies) provides a means to pool talent to create technical regulation through intergovernmental agreement, without sacrificing sovereignty to a supranational government. As a form of bellwether regarding the high degree of co-operation balanced with independence that this model allows, the United States is an active player within WP.6.

National control over fisheries, agricultural, environmental and energy policies would likewise enable Britain to adapt faster to change and respond flexibly to local demands. That is something the EU can never do; it is institutionally incapable of rapid response. The return of real policy-making power to Westminster and Whitehall would also necessitate making local government more powerful and accountable. The sclerotic EU bureaucracy has served its time. With the assurance that we can leave the EU in a manner that is economically secure, the opportunity to correct the historic error of EU membership is too good to miss. Let’s vote to leave.

“Project Fear” Concedes Defeat

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The swiftness with which Remain-minded MPs have gone from saying that leaving the EU is a “leap in the dark” and “nobody knows what Leave looks like” (literally yesterday) to today saying that “One alternative option put forward by pro-EU MPs would be for the UK to stay part of the single market by continuing its membership of the European Economic Area” is quite remarkable.

This BBC article prompted a strong reaction on both sides of the referendum campaign. But nothing in it will be news to anybody who has followed the work of The Leave Alliance or read Dr Richard North’s Flexcit plan. Indeed, were either of the campaign groups doing anything like a reasonable job of informing the public, the idea of leaving the EU but remaining in the Single Market would be entirely unremarkable.

The Leave Alliance has always argued that leaving the EU will necessarily be a process not an event and that as a result of more than 40 years of political and economic integration untangling Britain’s policy-making framework from that of the EU will take time. This is nothing more than pragmatic political reality.

There is no realistic exit option that does not embrace transitional arrangements of some kind or other and an EFTA/EEA type arrangement is the most credible because it involves taking existing legal instruments off the shelf to avoid uncertainty and facilitate an agreement that both Britain and the EU can accept in the short- to medium-term. EFTA/EEA would not be the destination but a pragmatic interim arrangement on route to a new settlement.

To witness the hysterical reactions of those who have variously ridiculed, ignored and scorned the only credible Brexit plan responding to the news that a Remain-oriented Parliament would have a say in the immediate post-exit arrangements is odd to say the least. A credible leave campaign, which Vote Leave most assuredly is not, would be using this opportunity to hammer home the fact that the EU is not the Single Market. Reassurance that Britain will not leave the Single Market while we disengage from the EU’s political and judicial arrangements means that leaving the EU is no risk at all.

With respect to immigration, it is worth noting that the EEA agreement contains within it a unilateral “emergency brake” akin to the one that Cameron failed to agree as part of his EU “renegotiation”. Furthermore, there is more to managing immigration than immediately ending free movement of workers within the EEA. Recovering policy control over key areas such as trade and aid, as well as foreign and defence policy, will enable Britain to do much more to find solutions to what is a global problem, working with our allies in Europe and partner countries around the world.

Leaving the EU is only the start of a process that will transform this country into one that is much more democratic and much more engaged at the global level. Outside of the EU, Britain would have no option but to modernise; Westminster and Whitehall would be too busy with national governance to indulge in political vanity projects; real localism would become a necessity; the business of politics would be policy and I see only positives resulting from the resurgence of democracy and accountable government.

The Remainers overplayed their hand with the “Project Fear” bogey and now they are trying to claim credit for ideas that were never theirs. The one thing that none of them can argue credibly from now on, however, is that “nobody knows what Leave looks like”. It begins with a return to proper democratic politics with a Parliamentary process to determine our immediate post-exit arrangements, and, to take the argument one stage further, we even know what that looks like—leaving the EU and remaining in the Single Market.

If you are interested in really engaging with the responsibilities and the opportunities that arise from democratic self-governance, there is (much) more in Flexcit.

A Revolution In Public Policy-Making

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I have twice used the phrase a revolution to public policy-making (here and here) to describe Dr Richard North’s and Robert Ould’s plan for how Britain should leave the European Union. This post is an initial attempt to explain that assertion and to describe how Britain’s EU exit can be secured, with minimal disruption, via a structured process known as Flexcit.

The essence of the Flexcit plan is to assure economic and political stability during Britain’s EU exit, with a focus on progressively achieving greater global engagement and enhanced democratic control. Neither of the established “leave” campaigns has yet produced a similar document and it is infeasible to imagine either ‘Leave.EU’ or ‘Vote Leave, Take Control’ devising a suitable alternative prior to the poll without adopting Flexcit, which, given Dr North’s and Mr Ould’s involvement in the ‘Referendum Planning Group’, would undoutedly require the authors’ consent.

This need not have been the case. Flexcit started life as a 2,500 word submission to the IEA Brexit competition in 2013 with Dr North providing the core ideas which contributors to the EUReferendum.com forum were then invited to criticise and comment on. To the shame of the IEA, the “contest” ended in farce, but the intellectual architecture devised at the time forms the basis for what is now called Flexcit. The name change from Brexit to Flexcit reflects the fact that leaving the EU will be a phased transition involving flexible response and continuous development—40 years of political and economic integration will not and should not be undone over night—to be accomplished in six clearly-defined stages.

The composition process described above will no doubt sound familiar to anybody with a working knowledge of the computer industry, where open-source software, such as the Linux operating system (OS), has existed alongside proprietary offerings for decades. The really innovative idea at the heart of the Linux project, says open-source historian, Eric S. Raymond, was not making the source code freely available to everybody—that was commonplace—it was the open and collaborative developmental model adopted by lead Linux programmer Linus Torvalds.

Raymond uses the metaphor of The Cathederal and the Bazaar to illustrate the difference between the old-fashioned, top-down heirachical approach of yesteryear and the innovative, open and collaborative approach that created Linux (and now Flexcit). The assumption that software development and especially complex software development necessarily needs strong central-planning was discredited by the Linux approach. Variants of the Linux kernel have the largest installed base of any OS in the world, supporting everything from smartphones (Android OS is a Linux variant) to servers and supercomputers.

Not to say that the open and collaborative approach of The Bazaar is without structure. Far from it. The communication channels on a typical open-source project centre around the project core—a single developer is common, and one to three is typical—and a halo of “testers” and other contributors (sometimes numbering in the thousands). This reduction in the communication and collaboration overhead is what gave rise to Torvalds’ dictum: “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”. Hence, the confidence that all those who witnessed Flexcit develop (a process that is still ongoing) have in the core ideas and detailed specifics of the plan.

The wonder is that these tried and tested methods had not been applied to policy-making—certainly not with respect to a Brexit plan—by any other group prior to the EUReferendum.com initiative. The document itself is a dense but highly readable 419 pages or there is the condensed version which is just 44 pages. Simplifying to the point of crassness, the plan centres on the idea that Britain should repatriate the entire EU acquis (body of EU law) and negotiate an “off-the-shelf” agreement to ensure regulatory continuity and access to the Single Market in the short term, thereby nulifying every europhile argument that favours further participation in the unwanted and unnecessary EU political integration process. More posts on the generalities and specifics of the Flexcit plan will undoubtedly follow over the coming weeks and months.

To anybody who wants to whinge about the “complexity” of the content, I can only suggest that you grow up. This is an EU exit plan not a tawdry list of aspirations. To anybody not intimiated by the opportunity to take charge their own country—really take charge, not like the ‘Vote Leave, Take Control’ patsies—if you’ve got what it takes, you’re needed.