Friday, 14 July 2017

A lazy and indifferent political class

Today, Conservative Member of Parliament, Nick Boles, shares his wisdom with us. In his closing remarks he tells us that "Leaving the EU is an enormous undertaking, the biggest since World War Two. It’s worth taking time to get it right so we can deliver the prosperous future that the British people want to see".

Who could disagree? He says:
Business leaders have recently asked for a long transition in which we stay in the Single Market while we work out the details of a new set of arrangements outside the EU. The open-ended transition that they propose would be a mistake as it would lead people to wonder if we were ever going to take back control of anything. But I think we should be doing everything we can to provide maximum reassurance to investors, and maximum time for businesses to adjust to life outside the EU.  So I favour a 3 year transition, starting in March 2019, in which we join the European Free Trade Association and become temporary members of the European Economic Area like Norway.  For those 3 years we would be outside the EU but in the Single Market, paying a contribution to the EU and accepting some version of freedom of movement.  These would all be temporary concessions buying us enough time to negotiate the detail of the new free trade agreement and other aspects of our long term partnership.  In March 2022, before the next election, we would leave the European Economic Area and start our new life as a fully independent nation, in control of our money, our borders and our laws.
You do have to wonder what planet they live on. It should be noted that just the process of joining an Efta EEA arrangement is in itself is a major legal undertaking that would likely take anywhere up to five years - and we haven't even started the ground work. Why would the EU, or indeed Efta, want to go to the trouble for what would be a temporary and disruptive process? Answer: they wouldn't.

More to the point, having done this, having given the UK a single market solution, the EU would not be obliged to invest any further energy in a bespoke FTA. Why bother?

As we have remarked before, he EEA agreement is not an FTA. It is a treaty system with country specific annexes so it can be tailored and the UK can register opt-outs and trigger safeguard clauses to reclaim those areas it wishes to exclude. To an extent, yes you can pick and choose parts of the single market - but only if you are in the single market framework. There are penalties for doing so but that is a matter for further negotiation - but that is the point of using it as both a transition and a destination.

This, though, would be very gradual process because anyone who has looked in all seriousness at the scale of the task knows there is no unravelling of forty years of political, legal and economic integration in just two or even ten years. We might prefer it another way but it is the only way to do it. If you want to ramp down from EU membership then your starting point has to be something as close to membership as possible.

But then Boles also says:
I am not an expert in the fine detail of customs arrangements and regulatory equivalence (and would rather chew my own arm off than become one.) But I believe very strongly that there is a right way and a wrong way of handling the Brexit negotiations. 
So here we have an Member of Parliament, sitting in a parliament whose only concern for the next five years is Brexit, one which Boles describes as an "enormous undertaking, the biggest since World War Two", who, despite having a staff budget to spend on research, access to the Commons library and all of the resources of the state - can't be bothered to familiarise himself with the issues.

As it happens I am not an expert (yet) on customs arrangements and regulatory equivalence - or at least not in the day to day sense, but in the context of Brexit I at least have a comprehensive idea of what lies ahead and how these systems work. It is one of the fundamental issues of Brexit - and that is why I now know more than I ever wanted to. 

Is that because I'm an academic surrounded by law books? Is it because I'm an LSE educated trade official? Is it because I'm a Westminster think-tank fellow in touch with all the best brains in the business? No, no and no. It's because I'm an active, inquisitive citizen taking part in our democracy. I do it at enormous cost to myself and will likely pay a price in the future for having taken so much time out of my career. And then Boles, paid £74,000, tells us he would rather chew his arm off than do his job. And they wonder why they are despised.

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