Saturday, 10 September 2016

After Brexit, we'll be back to square one


There lot of people who are going to complain that Brexit has been managed away and the revolutionary potential of it muted. And I know exactly who those people are going to be; all the people who told us that a Brexit plan was not necessary and all those people who took precisely zero interest in the process of designation for the lead campaign.

They will be asking why we are still paying into the EU budget, they will be asking why we still have "open borders" and they will be asking why Britain is still constrained by EU law. But that's what happens in politics when there is no movement with any specific demands and nothing that can realistically be acted upon.

The Brexit vote itself is best described as a two fingered salute against an aloof and remote establishment and that sentiment is now one that has to be interpreted. How do we bridge the gulf between the governors and the governed? Not least since Brexit is most certainly going to open up a different argument.

In all likelihood, the government will delay Article 50 until toward the end of 2017. Were we operating in a vacuum it would take years of procrastination for us to get nowhere but as more and more external influences voice their concerns, the paths available to us narrow by the day. By Christmas we will have weeded out most of the egregiously stupid approaches and their proponents will simply grunt from the sidelines.

Mrs May will then have to stand up to elements of her party who think Brexit means something different to what she thinks it means. Mrs May thinks that Brexit means leaving the EU without leaving a smouldering crater where our national prestige used to be. But then there are those who would have us leave the EU at any cost as soon as possible.

And this is where the interpretation comes in. Brexit means Brexit, but what does Brexit mean? If we take it at face value then it means something quite technical and mundane. Just the act of shuffling papers around until we are no longer subordinate to the EU. Mission accomplished. But then if we take Brexit to mean what was sold by the Leave campaign it means something else entirely.

We had the flatulent Boris Johnson grunting about bent bananas. We had Brexit the Movie waffling on about standards and regulations from Brussels. We had clueless Kate Hoey saying we didn't want to be in the single market, repeating the Cummings line that we're not really in it anyway. And then there's that whole business about the £350m a week. And if we're ending those payments then we are ending participation in any number of technical governance agencies.

So if we are talking about ending technocratic rule by regulation and participation in EU cooperation programmes we are in fact talking about ending all of our current trade deals not just with the EU but with everyone. You see, our trade deals on tariffs are just a small part of trade. The rest our trade agreements are based around mutual recognition and regulatory convergence. 

The consequences of Brexit as sold are quite profound. Our export of goods would take a massive hit. We would no longer be able to operate airlines in the single market as we do presently and we would have to drop all of our defensive tariffs. In diplomatic terms it would be a hostile act to depart from the EU in this way. The list of consequences is endless.

So Mrs May has to navigate her way out of this. Nobody wants those consequences except for a minority of nihilistic wreckers on the fringes. Moreover, this was not an election. We did not vote for Vote Leave Ltd. The vote was that two-fingered salute. Vote Leave do not get to call the shots. They perhaps would do if they had a Brexit plan and had campaigned on those grounds, but I did not vote to take a wrecking ball the entire edifice of modern governance nor do I see any advantage in doing so.

In order to prevent these unwanted consequences, Britain will have to make a series of compromises and concessions and though a big deal was made of immigration it is unlikely we can enact and blanket controls as demanded by Ukip. And who are Ukip anyway? A bunch of grunting misanthropes who halved their parliamentary representation in the general election. Why should we be held hostage to them?

But then we are really back to square one aren't we? Still a prisoner of circumstance, still without a solution to our economic and cultural stagnation. Still rudderless and without direction. Meanwhile those shabby northern slums who voted for change will find there is no real change. We may have lanced the boil of the EU but then the object of blame is also gone. We are still looking at a wildly divergent country with an economy and culture that works for London and only London.

It is as I said from the outset. Brexit is only the beginning. It is not the whole of the solution nor is it even half the solution. It is simply a line in the sand. It is, though, a missed opportunity. Had there been a set of coherent demands then we would have some kind of momentum. But we don't. We have come full circle.

We are now back to a time where the fringe parties were on the fringe, the Tory party is unassailable and the left are once again in an ideological funk. It's like the last twenty years didn't happen. What is needed now more than ever is a new movement in politics with fresh ideas and a coherent plan. That could have been Ukip had it not chosen populist grunting over political competence but that window has been and gone. Now we need to start over and avoid repeating the same mistakes.

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