Thursday 29 March 2018

Less than a Year to Resist Leaving the EU

So it is a year and counting down to leaving the European Union.

It is becoming clearer by the day that the supposed benefits to leaving are evaporating, whereas the benefits of sharing sovereignty deliver large blocs and both political and economic security among friends.

On the one hand we have over the Atlantic an increasingly free market dystopia with unreliable leadership; and to the east we have the gangster infused political autocracy that is Russia. The European Union is a confederation (that is, Member States retain their sovereignty and send their executives to make key decisions, retention of the veto in some matters remains crucial). Even if the European Union elects a President it still remains a confederal arrangement.

The original association was an iron and steel community. This set the foundation: that by sharing economic institutions we share interests, cannot fight, and have the same political goals. Decades later, and the institutions have developed extra demoocratic input: the European Parliament of course, and extra scrutiny in the nations.

We now face what some call BRINO (Brexit In Name Only) or a "technical Brexit". Jacob Rees Mogg is correct in one sense: that this neither satisfies those who would leave or those who would stay. Correct. It means retaining alignment with the EU but having none of the decision making.

A free trade deal is not worth the paper it is written on, and we have all learnt now that the EU is a legal entity and produces legal papers. It's not about speeches but hard text that attempts to nail down interpretations - but interpretations do go to courts, and will always go to the European Court of Justice.

It cannot be better than Canada, or the Canada agreement demands its own improvement (Most Favoured Nation clause). It cannot be much, if there is freedom to move from present complete alignment of trade regulations to something looser. The EU jealously guards its autonomy of decision taking regarding its regulations, and alignment means alignment.

If Northern Ireland stays aligned to Eire then either it is put into a kind of quarantine (a border in the Irish Sea) or the whole of the UK is aligned. This is not 'a' customs union, but THE Customs Union. The Single Market makes selling virtually administration free.

Theresa May and government know that the hard Brexiteers do not command the House of Commons. They might have been the tail to wag the Tory dog, and got us into this mess, but not in terms of passing a EU Departure vote through Parliament. The assumption is that the softest Brexit is the only one that will pass. It doesn't follow.

What is more likely is a deal that is a crunch point, and a descent rapidly into a General Election to decide the matter.

At the moment the Liberal Democrats seem to have gone into hibernation, although they tell us that they are talking to other MPs and especially Labour MPs, particularly of a centrist direction, and indeed the Labour Party seems stuck in a mire of internal disputes (e.g anti-semitism) which further generate a gulf between MPs and the leadership. There are cross-currents party-wise on EU and anti-EU lines at present. How a General Election will work is not clear, but clearly candidates are going to have to declare an EU or nationalist hand. Labour has nudged towards a more EU friendly stance (in terms of 'a' customs union) but it remains as muddled and ineffectual as it was. It is just not clear enough. Theresa May is shifting all the time, as only someone who lacks conviction on this matter can: from a pro-remain to a hostile leave to a friendly leave position.

The crunch points politically come before a year is up: the transition period is supposed to be after the final deal is done and accepted. But if it is not done, or not accepted, then there is a political chaos likely that is bound to leave the option of staying in as the demonstrable best option. The argument should be made now for this: sharing sovereignty is good, building shared economics is successful, and joining in with all matters of co-operation including security.

So it seems at present as if we are going from a stance of being a member with opt-outs to becoming a non-member with associate opt-ins. Opting in is expensive, and we don't get a say in matters through established institutions.

The daftest Brexit types seem to think the EU can be magicked away. It cannot, and is not going anywhere. Stop the mental fantasy and get real. It is a place where you pool sovereignty and join the modern world.