The Lion And The Unicorn

2000px-royal_coat_of_arms_of_the_united_kingdom-svg

The only way to wrest power away from our ruling elite is to take it. Voting to leave the European Union begins the process.

David Cameron has given us the means. Simply by putting an “X” on a piece of paper we can assert our sovereignty.

The box that no one is supposed to put an “X” in—the one that David Cameron wishes he had never put on the ballot—is a box that you may never see again outside a museum.

That box is your sole right to take power over your government.

That power normally only exists over the United Kingdom government. It does not exist for the European Union. No matter who you vote for in a general election, the European Union remains.

This one time you can participate in that most British of political processes—a ballot box revolution; an orderly transfer of power which removes the supremacy of the European Commission and the European Court of Justice from our national life.

Long before this campaign started, just after the Conservative Party’s unexpected election win, Alistair Campbell said on Question Time, “even having the debate is dangerous”. He was right. Democratic and accountable government are the best defence we know of against the hubristic and maladroit.

The absence of democracy across a wide range of policy areas is a feature of the European Union and it has an enormously detrimental affect upon the quality of our public life.

British voters cannot elect a government that can make changes at an EU level because the European Union is above the nation. The supranational character of the European Union excludes British voters from the process.

Do you want our parliament to be able to make laws concerning the areas of policy our politicians have given away to the European Union? If you do then you must instruct our politicians to return our governing power to the British parliament.

You can only do that by voting to leave the European Union.

Thinking For Ourselves

constitution-660x350-1429679157

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?

british-countryside-1

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.

Running Towards Risk

39a38a0

In 2003, Tim Lister and Tom DeMarco published a book about managing risk on software projects (stay with me!) in which they argued that “running towards risk” invariably yields more productive outcomes and better results than doing the opposite. “Projects with no real risks are losers… Risks and benefits always go hand in hand,” the pair assert.

That does not mean adopting a reckless or cavalier approach to risk-taking—Lister and DeMarco both consult on risk-management—but it does put the lie to the idea that risk is something that should be avoided at all costs. A more positive description of the same idea would be “embracing opportunity”.

So, yes, there are risks to leaving the EU and yes that is what makes embracing the opportunity so worthwhile.

Managing Risk

Effective risk-management involves identifying risks and proposing credible mitigation or avoidance measures. To that end, leaving the EU must be the most painstakingly described “leap in the dark” in the history of the world.

There are serious proposals for how Britain can leave the EU without fear or economic disruption and they have been part of the “leave” conversation from the very beginning. The Remainers have never seriously addressed the case that The Leave Alliance has made because the chancers and blowhards within Vote Leave make for an easier opposition.

Most people who follow these things will now know that Roland Smith’s terrific essay for the Adam Smith Institute, The Liberal Case for Leave, was based on the research of Dr Richard North and the Flexcit plan for a fear free exit. The plan was mentioned on Newsnight recently and it is openly acknowledged that civil servants have been reading Flexcit as part of drawing up contingency plans to be used in the event that the British electorate vote to leave the EU on June 23rd.

Though nobody can say with certainty what “leave” would look like, that does not mean that the “plausibility scope” is limitless. The decision will be constrained by political reality and the default two-year time period for the Article 50 exit negotiation means that the deal will of necessity use as many existing legal instruments as are available. That points very strongly to an EFTA/EEA interim deal.

The consequences of not coming to some kind of an agreement on trade prior to the deadline would be disastrous for both Britain and the EU so we can be confident that such a deal would be done.

Even if the EU decided to play “hardball” the UK would have options. The EU is a rules-based organisation bound by treaty and convention to negotiate in good faith. 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 commitment 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.

On this side of the Channel, if anybody wants to make a problem out of the fact that the abysmal Vote Leave is not proposing anything like that, I can only reiterate that this referendum is not about electing Vote Leave, it is about voting to leave the EU. Following a leave vote the position of the UK government will be determined by a parliamentary process; “leave” voters will not call all of the shots and “remain” voters will not be ignored. It is their country too.

The Commons as a whole is “remain”-minded, which, ironically, would provide the necessary ‘ballast’ to ensure that Britain’s economic security is protected at the point of EU exit. According to a very interesting poll commissioned by the Adam Smith Institute, the EFTA/EEA option has overwhelming popular support among “remain”-minded voters (in the event of a leave vote) and, even more importantly, nearly half of all “leave”-minded voters would accept such an outcome, at least for an interim period.

The need for reconciliation and a positive future relationship with our EU partners points almost ineluctably to a phased approach to EU exit—a process not an event—embracing the idea of transitional arrangements which retain Single Market membership at least until Britain has had the chance to rebuild its policy-making capabilities in vitally important areas such as trade, aid, energy, the environment, agriculture and fisheries.

However, that does not mean neglecting immigration as many in the media so often imply. The EEA agreement refers specifically to free movement of “workers” not free movement of “people” so there would be some wiggle room there. The “safeguard measures” in the EEA agreement are also interesting in the sense that the precedent for using them already exists—and there is also scope for a quota-based system to be applied as per “sectoral adaptations” in the EEA agreement. Little Lichtenstein has a brake on free movement of workers and Iceland imposed capital controls in response to the banking crisis. There would be scope to allay the fears of the most concerned.

Questions For Remainers

There it is. The initial phase of the Brexit transition from supranational subordination to independent self-governance. There are risks but there are also contingencies to mitigate those risks and the opportunity to re-engage with the rest of the world, championing the multilateral trading system and promoting trade facilitation to enhance peace, prosperity and well-being is enormous.

What then can the Remainers tell us about what staying in the EU would look like? Do they have the first idea about the plans for further integration that are coming down the pike? Are they capable of speaking honestly about the risks associated with remaining tethered to an EU bloc centred around the euro which substitutes Britain’s global voice in international forums for the “common position” of the EU-28? What kind of a future is that?

If you want to stick your head in the sand and pretend that systemic problems with the euro and the entire EU legislative process can be wished away with some half-hearted incantation about “reform” from people who never really mean it and who would never achieve it then that is your prerogative.

But running towards risk is the inverse of taking a reckless gamble on a genuine unknown. The greater autonomy, agility and accountability that leaving the EU would mean for policy-making in this country represents a real opportunity to bring power closer to the people. Taking responsibility for your actions is the beginning of maturity and it is past time that British politics grew up and started to engage with the real world once again.

Nobody should think that reforming Britain’s governance is going to be easy but we have to start somewhere and returning policy-making power to institutions we can influence begins with Britain leaving the EU.

A Step Into The Light

asi_poll

Untangling 40 years of political and economic integration cannot happen overnight but it can be done in a series of measured steps. The obvious first step is to rejoin EFTA so as to continue to access the Single Market (EEA) on the same terms as today.

Yes, free movement of workers is an intrinsic part of the EEA agreement, however, even exiting to that position would allow more control over immigration than we have today—and as the first phase of a multi-stage process the EEA provides a solid platform on which to build a longer-term settlement that better suits Britain.

First of all, there are so-called “safeguard measures” in the EEA agreement. These are akin to the “emergency brake” which Cameron failed to agree as part of his renegotiation, allowing for the unilateral suspension of any of the four freedoms. Secondly, leaving the EU places responsibility for the current immigration policy squarely where it belongs—at the feet of Parliament and the UK government.

Any post-exit immigration policy would obviously need to accommodate a wide range of voices, not only leave voters, and there would be trade-offs whatever is decided. I can only think that we would see a much more constructive debate as a result.

People need to stop thinking about leaving the EU as a one-time event and understand instead that of necessity it will be a longer-term process. An EEA type deal keeps the rest of the ship steady—retaining the bits that people generally like (i.e the market)—while removing Britain from the political and judicial arrangements of a union which even Remain-minded politicians say Britain should not go further into. See Cameron’s claims about a “special status”.

Britain is not in the euro and not in Schengen and it is not going to be. “Leading in Europe” is unthinkable from such a position and the idea that the UK can “reform” the EU from a position on the periphery is a joke. Remaining at this stage would mean accepting the EU as our interface to the rest of the world even while being marginalised as the eurozone integrates still further (as it must). That really would be “isolating” ourselves and turning our back on the world.

Better to let those countries that want to integrate do so while we step into the second pillar of the two-pillar EEA agreement, EFTA, which is genuinely all about trade, as the EU is still (mostly) being sold to people.

The fact that almost the entire referendum debate has centred on what our future trading arrangement would be—even though the EU is an avowedly political organisation with competency across a vast array of policy areas—is part of the same delusion British politicians have perpetuated since the UK first sought to join the then European Economic Community (EEC). Nowhere else on the continent is this level of deception and self-deception indulged. The EU is not a trade bloc, it is a government, and it is one that, in my view, we do not need nor want.

There is an enormous amount of work to be done to rediscover the art of democratic self-governance. More than almost anybody seems to realise. But I see leaving the EU as an enormously exciting opportunity to reinvigorate our domestic politics and to re-engage with the rest of the world as Britain.

The first practical and pragmatic step, however, is to concede the point on freedom of movement, which is not the same as an “open door”. That is the price the EU will demand for securing our trouble free exit and it is also the only kind of deal that our Remain-centric Parliament will accept. It returns policy control in the areas of trade, aid, energy, the environment, agriculture and fisheries, removes Britain from the jurisdiction of the ECJ, and causes minimal disruption for both sides. That is more than enough to be going on with for the time being.

A process, not an event. That is the key. The EEA is the door. We were taken into the EU one step at a time, we will recover our independence in equally measured steps. Do you want to take that first step?

Vote to leave.

Reading Comprehension

82650-thumb

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.

Beyond EEA

its-a-new-dawn

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.