Monday, 15 May 2017

Brexit is fine, but why do we have to be dicks about it?

There is a strand of Brexitism I find completely repellent. People who think that we need to leave the EU and be complete dicks about it. I don't see how that is going to get us what we want. But then that's the thing isn't it? Do these people even know what they want?

There are those who would like nothing more than to walk away, paying nothing as we leave and sticking two up to Brussels. While that may indeed be satisfying it is difficult to see what this would accomplish. If we don't settle the accounts then we pull the plug on a number of critical programmes and never again will we be invited to participate in European cooperation programmes. More to the point, there is then no incentive whatsoever for the EU to compromise on more technical considerations like the Northern Irish border. As to a comprehensive FTA, fuhgeddaboudit!

For the life of me I can't see why this has to be antagonistic. If we stayed in the EU we would be paying the same into the EU budget. Since we are leaving we know that at some point we will terminate many of these payments so why do we need to quibble over funding the EU for the period of the transition? Can you imagine a less important issue?

More to the point, for the duration of a transition, it is very likely that we will call on the services of various EU agencies more than ever. We need them to be working in good order. It is in the national interest.

What I would also point out is that the aim of Brexit is not to make an enemy of the EU. Like it or not, the EU continues to exist after Brexit and as our nearest and largest trading partner it will continue to influence our laws, if not by some kind of direct adoption of EU rules then by way of the "Brussels Effect".

The broad assumption that Brexit means we will make all our own laws is one of the more cretinous ones. Regardless of the EU we adopt international standards and legislate in accordance with a number of global conventions and organisations. Not least the WTO. If we wish to maintain an open relationship with the EU and by extension the many countries with which the EU has a trade agreement, then we will need to retain a lot of the technical regulation.

As I keep having to remind leavers, the commonly understood notion of sovereignty is fluid and that the only real sovereignty, and the only sovereignty that really matters, is the right to say no. The right to say no, though, does not mean we will not often say yes - if it is in the direct national interest. That is a feature of the global trading system.

This is why we have to remind ourselves where we want to be. The objective of Brexit negotiations should be to ensure that we do have a firewall between us and EU diktats. That does not rule out the possibility of continued integration and cooperation just so long as we can pull the plug if we need to.

Jean Claude Juncker was technically correct when he said "there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties" and that is why we need to leave. That though does not mean that we cannot commit ourselves to a deep relationship with the EU. We still want to be able to influence decisions, we still want free movement of goods at the very least and we still want inter-agency compatibility in addressing shared concerns like cyber-crime, fraud and terrorism. In all such endeavours we are better off if we are sharing intelligence and have a working partnership with the EU.

If the objective is to continue with international cooperation and open trade with Europe then we have to ensure that we are not opening up pointless disputes over minutia and that we honour our commitments whether we are legally obliged or not. Like it or not we need goodwill from the EU, not least in facilitating our reinstatement at the WTO - and when we are looking at corporate scale de-mergers of EU agencies, we are going to have to depart on good terms so that we can call on their assistance. Absolutely nobody wins from an acrimonious break and the more hostile our approach the less likely we are to maintain good relations in the future.

There is no reason why Brexit cannot be a net gain for both parties here. For decades now the UK has been the drag factor. As much as the UK is now free to re-invent, so is the EU. We need to ensure that when this happens the UK is viewed as a close ally like Norway rather than the angry man of Europe. How we are perceived in the future will have repercussions not just for EU relations but also in how we secure agreements with others. Who is likely to enter a comprehensive trade agreement with the UK if we have shown a willingness to pull the plug and walk away?

There is no reason why Brexit talks have to be a biff-bam showdown and we should not allow the media to turn it into such. Above all Brexit is a serious of technical and legal conundrums some of which are existential threats to the EU. It is in our interests for us to help the EU preserve its own legal integrity and in doing so there is every reason to expect good will in kind.

There is nothing more ugly than the combative Brexiteer who views this process as a chance to settle scores. As stupid at it is, it's a game we cannot win and will not be allowed to win. We are the petitioners here. We are the ones asking the EU to drop everything and divert its runtime to Brexit and we are the ones interfering with normal operations. If we make it more painful than it needs to be then we can expect them to exact a price.

Presently there is no will in the EU to punish the UK. Broadly they consider Brexit in its own right to be punishment enough. Moreover, the EU is constrained by its own laws and its own dogma. It will only punish us if we give them cause to. The EU has expressed a willingness to come to an agreement with us. What shape that takes depends on how we act now.

Our vision is for a United Kingdom as a self-governing, self-confident, free trading nation state, releasing the potential of its citizens through democratic control of both national and local government and providing maximum freedom and responsibility for its people. Nowhere does it say we have to antagonise the EU to do it.

If we are to be a "global Britain" then first and foremost we must have good relations with our neighbours. There is no possible way we can we can seal a reputation as a global player if we are at odds with the EU and with the EU working against us. We could very easily start a trade space race where the UK is put to the back of the queue each and every time. This is a future we can avoid by entering talks with self-discipline, good sense and restraint. If May plays to the Brexit gallery then she may have her handbagging moment in history, but the ramifications will be lasting and damaging. Britain is surely better than this? We can leave the EU and we can make a good go of it, but we don't have to be dicks about it, do we?

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