Tuesday, 23 August 2016

It's time for remainers to get real about Brexit


Ok remainers, we get it. You REALLY don't want to leave the EU. The problem is, the majority of the country doesn't agree with you and there is scant evidence to suggest they have changed their minds. And if you're objective and fair minded you know full well it is nothing to do with bigotry or xenophobia. It's about something more profound.

I know what genuine xenophobia looks like. I am pleased and proud to say that it is rare. Some may express politically dubious views but most people are decent and when challenged they will capitulate to good sense. The notion that the UK is suddenly a hotbed of racism is completely bogus.

There's a real message in the final verdict. Remainers are aghast that regions which receive the most in EU funding turned out in high numbers to reject the EU. What does that tell you? If you take that to mean working class people are thick and voted against their own interests and that media bias meant that the message of economists didn't get through then actually it's you who's a bit thick.

Let's take Sunderland. Sixty one per cent voted to leave. Yet the North East is swimming with EU cash. We can say the same of Sheffield. Regions formerly associated with the UK's productive heavy industry. What they would call rust belt in the USA. Don't worry. I'm not going to bore you with all the clich├ęs about globalisation. These are regions with proud traditions and a history of making things - but automation and globalisation have made these towns redundant. We know all this. It bores me even to type it.

What we are told though is that we are stronger, more prosperous and more influential in the EU. Londoners evidently believe that because rich cities based on global services only get richer. Meanwhile Liverpool is turning into our own version of Detroit. For sure it has a first class container port but modern trade is all about automation and reducing headcounts in shifting produce around the world. We have made our great cities redundant along with their inhabitants.

But this isn't new. Our core industries have been gone since the eighties and early nineties. The EU has had twenty years to deliver. It hasn't. We've seen cosmetic regeneration but whatever prosperity we have enjoyed has been fuelled by cheap money and a mountain of debt. Now that party is over the fundamentals are unsound. We can't borrow and spend. We have to find ways to compete in the global economy and increase our productivity. And that is something the EU cannot deliver.

The EU is presently negotiating TTIP. They have been negotiating it for years and is nowhere near a conclusion and its future is uncertain. It's not even popular. It might not even pass. Years of trade liberalisation go up in smoke. For what? We were told that being in the EU meant that we get more bang for our bucks by way of increasing our clout. But there is scant evidence of that if you live in the North East or Liverpool or Stoke on Trent. Meanwhile we continue to import poverty.

The fact of the matter is the current economic model, underpinned by EU administration of trade, is not working. It has not delivered. If there is EU development money coming in then it is subsistence. And it's not going into the pockets of those who need it. And it is after all our money. We have seen the quangoisation of regional economic development policy and much of the money goes on corporate fat cat salaries on regeneration projects that do not deliver. Bonuses for all - unless you're one of the little people.

So enough is enough. The EU has had all the time in the world to demonstrate its sincerity. The UK has been in the no man's land of post-globalisation economics for two decades and it doesn't look like anything is going to change. We need to pull up our socks and get in the race. We need to start competing in a global marketplace. That is not going to happen from inside the EU iron curtain. We are euro-centric, complacent and overindulged, locking out the rest of the world under the misapprehension that the world owes Europe a living. Not so. The rest of the world is catching up and we need some new thinking and we need to get mobilised.

Brexit will do that. For the first time in my lifetime there is a deep and thorough debate about trade dynamics, trade politics and the mechanisms by which we can expand our trade. We have popularised trade as an issue by voting to leave. Trade and development - and how we relate to the rest of the world will dominate politics for the next decade. And that's how it should be. The debate will bring about new innovations and new ideas and new approaches and it will refocus our politicians on the matters that matter - rather than their myopic fixations like telling us what to eat.

I don't disagree that Brexit is time consuming and difficult. It may well mean taking a step back before we can go forward. It may well mean the systems of support that have maintained a subsistence existence take a hit. The fact is we are willing to take a gamble. We are willing to give it a shot.

Brexit is our chance to redefine our uneasy relationship with the EU and it will allow the EU to become what it needs to become while allowing us to think about our place in the world and how we relate to it. This is a revolution in domestic and European governance. there will be winners and losers - but all change presents opportunities. Now is the time to be thinking big. Now is the time to think beyond the confines of the EU and look at the developments in global trade while we have been in this state of economic slumber. For four whole decades Britain has retreated from the world and abdicated matters of trade and industry to the EU. Now we are playing catch up and we will realise there is a party going on with an open invite.

This blog has spoken much of the potential in Trade Facilitation - and this is something the national debate has yet to get to grips with - but as a services economy this really does open up a world of opportunity. We have to stop catastrophising Brexit and look upon it as an opportunity. It is an opportunity to bring about the relationship with the EU that we could not secure as a member. It is an opportunity to reassert our distinctiveness. And it is an opportunity to harness entirely new modes of trade and commerce in ways we never imagined.

When the EU was envisaged there was no such thing as containerisation, the Internet and smart-phones. The world is very different today. Global markets need global rules, not regional ones. That is where Britain needs to be acting as a voice in its own right. The world has moved beyond the quaint old EU. Now is the time to rethink everything we do. Brexit forces our politicians to have that debate - and it's the only thing that was ever going to. Brexit isn't a disaster. It's just a change of tack because the status quo doesn't work. There is nothing to fear. Brexit will only be a failure if remainers persist in their desire to make failure a reality.

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