Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Bored with Brexit - it's EFTA Stupid...

Evening - hope our foray into European matters goes rather better than that of Man United last night.

The post-referendum period has been an immensely disappointing time from a philosophical perspective for a number of reasons. We've witnessed a sort of toxicity enter our discourse which, if we're absolutely honest, was on the horizon for some time but then that God awful campaign unleashed upon all of us. With many on both sides preferring to re-fight that battle amongst themselves rather than approaching the problem constructively, the entire country appears engulfed by a sort of 'caretaker manager' status as we've boiled everything down to 1) bickering about Soft Brexit/Hard Brexit/I can't believe it's not Brexit and 2) 'stuff' around identity politics. That's it.

Leaving aside the nonsense around non-binary and transgenderism, there are three reasons why I can understand the 'slow emotion replay' being fought to some extent. One is the shocking and blatantly dishonest campaigns waged by both sides, which has left a sense of 'unfinished business' with nothing truly resolved (especially when you factor in that it was 52-48 and hardly represents a 'mandate for change' at all). A good analogy would be with a very close (albeit terrible) fight in boxing which went to a split decision on the scorecards. The loser claims to have 'lost the battle but won the war' and immediately calls for a rematch. I think Remainers are ultimately wrong here, but get their point.

Then there's the attempts by numerous and various to tell 17 million people "what they voted for" as if they all voted the same way for some sole and identical reason. This has been used to drive a silly and presumptuous 'debate' about the trajectory and nature of Brexit, when in reality some will have 'Brexited' in the hope of retaining at least some economic ties with Europe. Others were no doubt willing to 'take a hit' in the name of culture, heritage and/or restricting immigration while there will of course be some who probably couldn't articulate exactly why they voted the way they did but were perhaps motivated by a desire for some form (in fact any form) of 'change' at any cost.

Probably most importantly there seemed to be a pledge on the part of the 'alternative government' that was the Leave campaign that we would all have more money in out pockets right away as a result of leaving the EU, that a deal could be struck which combined every imaginable positive of membership with precisely zero adverse effects. This struck me at the time as being a cynical and disingenuous piece of gerrymandering based on what those offering it knew to be a false premise. As a result, all roads from there were bound to lead to disappointment and disillusionment when this thing could easily have been won (albeit by a different campaign) on a more realistic understanding.

It may be that we struggle economically post-2019, but I don't necessarily see this as an argument why it's such a terrible idea. By the same logic, young people should never move out of their parents' house since for the few years immediately proceeding that decision they might have less disposable income. Similarly, the nations of Eastern Europe should have stuck with Communism in the 1990s because the period of re-adjustment proved to be one of stress, hardship and difficulty for some. In reality our biggest mistake was joining what was the EEC in the first place and no process of unraveling from it was ever going to be rapid, straightforward or painless.

It's worth remembering that greater independence, the ability to shape your own destiny to a more significant extent, is a good thing in and of itself.

With this in mind, the option of joining EFTA is one that has always struck me as the 'least worst' option and an off-the-shelf type of choice which could conceivably have been agreed (at least in principle) by now. Sure, EFTA equals compliance with most of the EU's rules, it means some sort of membership fee going forward and is not a 'perfect' solution by any stretch. However, while enabling continuity and confidence it provides us with some (albeit limited) tools for restricting immigration and disassociates us entirely from the 'ever closer union' that is now known to be the EU's ultimate goal. Set against Utopia it fails, but next to every other realistic option, it's pretty good.

The Uk would be a massive addition to the association and provide it with a significantly increased profile on the world stage. From there, we could start to appeal to those movements within other EU nations which seek a similar process to the one we're engaged in - offering to open our doors to any country wishing to substitute EFTA membership for that of the EU while promoting it internationally as a looser and more flexible alternative. In the event that seven, eight, nine takers were forming a queue to join what would essentially now be a rival body, EFTA would be in a position to basically re-negotiate an even better arrangement for itself, starting a virtuous circle (at least for us).

Playing 'the long game' here just might lead to what many Brexiters really want, which is not simply British withdrawal but the collapse of the European Union itself. This, I suspect, is why the Conservative Party, a distinctly pro-EU organ which gave us the Single European Act, Maastricht and the non-vote on Lisbon, will not even countenance going down the EFTA road. Meanwhile, the boneheads and village idiots on the UKIP wing of the argument are too trapped in their state of Little Englander myopia to see this bigger picture. Having enjoyed the chase much more than the catch, their lack of imagination has created the terrain for a strong 'take us back in' movement to emerge.

This is why I've ultimately stopped talking about the subject, as not only am I far from sure we will actually end up leaving, but even if we do Brexiters were too busy winning the vote and then celebrating to even attempt to win the argument, let alone establish realistic and achievable aims once it had been won. A motivated, driven and well-resourced campaign to stop this from happening will simply morph into one to take us back in given 2-3 years to re-tune and wait for the inevitable post-Brexit difficulty - nor am I in any doubt that they will get their day, their referendum to re-enter with Schengen, the Euro and everything else. How that will work out is anyone's guess.

Smug Brexiters have really taken their eye off the ball here.

Anyway, apologies for the gloom but there is a reason why this 'Brexiter' of two decades has gone rather quiet. I'll say it again, pursuing a referendum rather than destroying the pyrite sceptics of the Conservative Party was the wrong, wrong way to go.

On a brighter note, I wrote the words 'slow emotion replay' earlier for a reason. Will leave you with some music and catch you next time - thanks for reading.

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