Monday, 22 January 2018

Brexit: the future starts here


I have to admit that there was a moment last summer, lasting about a week, when I seriously questioned the wisdom of Brexit. With the Tory Taliban pushing for no deal, it brought me to the edge of reconsidering. I think, however, that the Tory right lost that argument. I think there will be a deal and though it probably won't be the EEA, there will be a fudge on free movement of goods and some provision for services. It will do, sub-optimal though it may be.

To me that makes the Brexit process a lot less interesting. The public has zero say in it so it's really just a matter of waiting to find out what the deal looks like, learning how it works and adapting accordingly.

On the campaigning front I'm starting to think that the remainers have jumped the shark. The sourness has destroyed any case they might have made. The economic arguments they have didn't work in the referendum and they won't work now. Especially with the pound recovering and the absence of immediate Brexitgeddon.

It also looks like the door to remaining is closing. The EU wants to get on with being the EU and remainers would now have to make a case not just for remaining but also buying into European federalism - which is simply not going to fly with Brits.

If we manage to preserve an open border with NI, keep the trucks rolling and aircraft flying, most of the pragmatic remainer concerns will be addressed. Since the rights of EU citizens are safeguarded further shrillness from remainers is unwarranted and just sounds petulant. Since we are this far in I think there's an acceptance that we have crossed the event horizon and there are too many wheels in motion to turn back. The public is more accepting than the die hard remainers.

As to whatever economic damage may follow, I am convinced that the economy in good time will reorient itself to whatever the new settlement is. People will adapt, as indeed they always have. Some things will improve, some things will not. Politics will take over.

While I had my concerns about Brexit the more I look at it it from the non-economic perspective the more I am absolutely convinced that it's the right thing to do and now is the best time to be doing it. Britain needs change, it needs a fresh start and it needs a new direction. Remaining cannot promise that. Brexit, for whatever its faults, can.

In recent weeks and months I've looked at the social and human aspect of Brexit and concluded that there are many ways in which subtle changes will be good for national morale, good for democracy and a chance to have a rethink on a number of long settled policy areas. Though no FTA will ever compensate for the loss of the single market, I think there could be some pleasant surprises and in many respects a change for its own sake is healthy.

What removed any doubt from my mind was last week's vote on the amendment to retain the EU charter of fundamental rights. I have written much about how nearly every EU initiative is there to serve the integrationist agenda but this was a reminder that the Lisbon treaty really is a foundation constitution for a Federal Europe. The ECFR is the blueprint for the social Europe which completes le grand project. That then reminds me of that famous Roy Jenkins quite in 1999.
"There are only two coherent British attitudes to Europe. One is to participate fully and to endeavour to exercise as much influence and gain as much benefit as possible from the inside. The other is to recognise that Britain’s history, national psychology and political culture may be such that we can never be other than a foot-dragging and constantly complaining member; and that it would be better, and certainly would produce less friction, to accept this and to move towards an orderly, and if possible, reasonably amicable withdrawal."
The only alteration I would make to that is the first sentence. I would change it to "There are only two respectable British attitudes to Europe". There is no right or wrong answer. it is simply a matter of preference as to whether one wishes to be a province of a federal Europe or a self-governing independent nation. I believe democracy is better served by the latter - and if that be the case then economic arguments don't come into it. You just have to bite the bullet and get it done.

But this is why I have so much deep seated contempt for our political class. They who would tell us to remain purely on the basis of economic concerns, completely oblivious as to the motives and functioning of the EU, preferring that level of governance to tick along without Westminster supervision. It's like asking a businessman for details about the functioning of his company only to be told "my accountant handles all that". That is not a respectable position from our politicians. It is a dereliction of duty. 

By the same token, this is why I bear no malice toward die hard remainers like Mike Galsworthy and Jon Worth. They are unapologetic europhiles and if the EU did fully federalise they would present no opposition. I can respect that. It is at least an honest position. The pretence, though, that one can be in the EU and not subject to ever closer union, is nothing short of a contemptible deception... or inexcusable ignorance. 

As we have elected to be a self-governing independent state we must simply reckon with the costs of that decision. You can tell me it's going to hurt exports or hurt the NHS. You can tell me it's going to cause a lot of uncertainty and disruption. That's as maybe. I'm not even going to argue. It does not alter the political reality that we are leaving the EU and we will move on from this.

Twenty years ago most households did not have the internet. Now we would struggle to cope without it. In terms of day to day consumables and small luxuries we can have more or less anything we want at the click of a button. Technology is outpacing the development of trade agreements and global supply chains are standardising without prompt from any authority. Amazon will do more to create a global marketplace than the EU. 

If you think of where we were twenty years ago and then try to imagine where we will be in another twenty years, following another technological revolution (whatever that may be) the minutia of Brexit will feel a universe away. Our membership of the EU will be as meaningless to the next generation as our one time brief membership of Efta is to the millennials. The post-war European order will be utterly irrelevant to those who come after us. Our legacy to them, though, will be an independent democracy free of the paranoid dogmas of the EU. 

Though events are presently sluggish, with some of the momentum of the referendum melting away, the closer we get to Brexit day, the closer we get to a new beginning. That is when we will start to feel the consequences of our decision. That day cannot come soon enough. 

That is when it will become inescapably obvious that we lack the political machinery to adequately forge our response to those changes. That is when collective tolerance for our zombie politics will end. The day when we have no excuses, no restraints and no further patience. On that day we begin writing a new chapter in British history, when we finally put the superstitions of the twentieth century behind us. That will be the day I have waited so long for. Let the future commence. 

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