Thursday, 25 August 2016
There is no simplifying Brexit
Modernity simply does not function without regulations. And there is no point in regulation unless you have inspection. And if you have inspection then you have paperwork. Everybody hates it but everyone would complain if it didn't exist.
In the modern age systems for trading in goods and services are built on a collaborative basis based on science and expertise. Very little is done unilaterally now and very little gets done quickly or cheaply. There are multiple overlaps where industry management has considerable impact on trade. They are uniquely intertwined.
In fishing, for example, the aim is to ensure you can sustain stocks and ensure your methods do not damage habitats and that the externalities of that activity are not unduly negative. So we have quota systems and means of punishing overfishing. All of these have to be negotiated and codified into law and contracts.
Before you know it you have a complex system and as it gets older there are more and more legacy issues where contractual obligations can stand in the way of reform. So if you have a regional resource like the North Sea it stands to reason that you will need an inspectorate and an arbitrations system along with policy units which can monitor the effects of policy-making and feed back findings to legislators.
Just in terms of ensuring we do not threaten various species of fish we need to ensure certain net sizes are not used in sensitive areas. We also want to ensure that the industry is not unnecessarily polluting habitats. And of course the coastline is valuable to the economy in terms of leisure and tourism so the activities of maritime industry must not threaten natural assets. This is when you get policy overlaps with competing agendas and incompatible policy objectives which can lead to inter-agency rivalry, jurisdictional issues and managerial incompetence.
Then introduce European politics into the mix. Now you see the problem. Taking back control means doing a full systems analysis from top to bottom. We might decide that we want to do something a little bit differently but that would possibly impact on foreign boats who have contracts written under the previous agreements. They have acquired rights. So you either have to buy them out or schedule your modifications. That means you need a centrally administered database of all fishing contracts and the types of agreements made.
It has to be staffed. It needs contract lawyers, ecologists, inspectors, customs officials, accountants and administrators. The entire industry is worth a billion to the UK alone every year. That's before you factor in secondary services and marine engineering.
So in this the last thing you would do is ditch forty years of established policy. To unilaterally take back control without consultation or forewarning is to shaft a lot of our trading partners and break international law. So when people tell you that we can leave the EU by hammering out a trade deal they are not being at all honest with you.
If you were coming at it from scratch, having never been a member of the EU then you might be able to approach it with a degree of blue sky thinking - but in reality we have let a common fisheries policy build up over decades with a number of mixed agreements therein which cannot be unspun at the stroke of a pen.
Some people think it's just a matter of swapping over regulations to ones we like that will reduce costs - but every single regulation has been hammered out on a multilateral basis and in its own way is a binding contract between parties.
And then we have to think where we want to go with our fishing policy. We can take back our waters but we don't have enough boats to fish them and we don't have the ports anymore. The ones that are not now city urban marinas are simply not equipped to cope with modern large scale industrial trawlers. There has been thirty years of development since we scrapped the North Sea fleet. And so though we will be in control of administration and we can change for the privilege of fishing in UK waters we won't be banning Spanish trawlers as some assume.
And then if we are landing fish then they must be frozen and packed and prepared according to a common set of rules, not least hygiene rules otherwise we cannot expect to export to developed countries.
So we are now in an era of massive interdependency whether or not you have a supranational authority or not and there is no such thing as absolute sovereignty and barely any unilateralism without extensive consultation and negotiation. Acting unilaterally in a way that could affect the trade of others can result in lawsuits and complains to the WTO. This really does expose the emptiness of the "take back control" mantra.
All of this is often dismissed as technocracy, but without it we would be in a very real mess. In this there is an inherent desire among Brexiteers to simplify that which cannot be simplified. You can make it more transparent, you can bring administration closer to home and you can maybe make marginal reforms but there is no silver bullet that makes the inherently complex more easily understood - nor is there the scope for ruthless slash and burn deregulation that some believe there is. It is a rich tapestry of law where pulling at threads is discouraged.
The idea that leaving the EU means turning our backs on technocracy is a bogus one - one that has been popularised by those who believe red tape is solely an EU invention and that Eurocrats dream it up just to pass the time of day. For sure there is corruption and commercial interest at play with undue influence from lobbyists but none of that goes away just by repatriating management of our waters. Technocracy is here to stay.
It is going to take a small army of experts and bureaucrats to design a replacement for the CFP and it is going to take them years to design and years to implement. If they have the outline of a policy inside six years then that would be an amazing feat of project management. Policy does not come easy - especially when it makes demands of the democratic machinery which has other competing agendas. And then there is implementation and the costs associated with transitioning. Another clue as to why we won't be saving £350m a week.
Leaving the EU is not a factory reset on regulation and trade law. All it means is that decisions will be taken a little closer to home with UK interests more closely guarded. Fishing is a worldwide industry where fish might be caught in the North Sea, frozen, shipped to Japan for processing and flown back to Heathrow. We must have laws that govern the supply chain so we have a chain of accountability - we must have food safety laws, customs laws - and health & safety at sea is more prominent a concern than ever.
So too are workers rights. The fisheries industry is not what it was. These days a trawler won't waste time going back to port. They will offload their catch to a fleet services vessel where some processing is done in the hold by illegal foreign labour on sub minimum wages. So we are going to want to safeguard our international reputation by having fisheries patrols and air surveillance. Food fraud and black market fish is a huge part of fish trade.
This is what we have tasked our government with. Politicians who have for many years been used to debating taxes on carrier bags and whether a lady can wear a bikini on a billboard or whether the trains should be owned by the government. We are about to cross into another realm of politics leaden with complexity and dry detail that our politicians are simply not equipped to cope with.
And so yes we are going to delegate a lot to civil servants and scientists and yes we are going to entrust much of it to evidence based policy and no there is not time in the political calendar to give it the attention it deserves. So we work on an international treaty basis whereby we enlist the International Maritime Organisation, Codex and UNECE. We exchange Brussels for Geneva.
And now that you have a glimmer of what is involved in fishing now think the same for agriculture, airline safety, space policy, medicines, Europol, banking, customs and intellectual property - to name just a few. Now remind me. What was that you were saying about wrapping up Brexit with a free trade deal inside two years? Good luck with that.