14 April 2024 03:41:16 GMT

The Third Rock Forum - Politics

Article Title
Don't be a cuckoo in the Brexit nest
Paul G
Topic Section(s)
Submitted : 30-09-2017 17:33
Amended : 31-01-2018 15:29
Status : Approved:  
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1111              INTRODUCTION

The most disappointing aspect of the EU referendum is the inability of so many remainers to accept the result of the vote.  They seem to wish to rehearse interminably the arguments for and against leaving and then reverse the result of the first referendum with a second referendum. What can I say? How about: “Be fair”.  We have given the result of the original (1975) referendum 40 years to test whether the result of that vote was the right decision.  The remainers apparently won’t give the 2016 referendum 40 seconds.

Perhaps more importantly, given we are leaving, the only achievement of these recalcitrant remainers will be that they ensure we get the worst possible deal from the EU. The remainers argue any deal is better than no deal.  And some of them are demanding a second referendum on the terms we finally negotiate. Given the EU wishes us to stay, both arguments will ensure the EU has every incentive to give us the worst possible deal.  (I have explained why this is so elsewhere for anyone who doesn’t understand.)

So why am I writing this piece?  To be honest, I’m not sure. As I say, I’m disappointed but I’m also amazed, amazed that seemingly rational, well-meaning people can behave in such an irrational, undemocratic and destructive manner.

So I’m going to be very fair-minded (up to a point) and look once more at the vexed Brexit issue.  Bear with me. It might be fun.

2              1. ANALYSIS

The reason that there is such controversy over Brexit is that there are two distinct images of the European Union.

1.1      TWO VIEWS

The Remainers view is that the EU is a benign force for good, setting standards and holding firm on issues of human rights; that it represents an heroic attempt to eliminate nationalism (the cause of so many wars); that it fosters international cooperation at every level (political, economic and social); that it points the way to a world of borderless cooperation between all nations; and that it provides perfect opportunities for the celebration and enhancement of pan-European culture.

The Brexiteers view is that the EU is yet another attempt to form a political and economic power bloc which, if successful, will exhibit all the defects of other such constructs.  Politically, through ever closer union, it seeks to form a super-state with its own central government, central exchequer and military force but without any real democratic legitimacy. Economically, it is a protectionist structure (hence its use of tariffs) which, in common with all protectionist organisation, seeks to protect the  inefficiencies within (e.g. the CAP and other forms of subsidy), while damaging the economic/trading prospects of everyone outside.



The advantage to the UK of EU membership is predominantly access to the single market. Membership facilitates trade between member states and the UK, as a major exporter and importer, benefits from this aspect of the EU. Indeed, when the UK had its first referendum on EU membership, the British people were told that free trade within the member states was what the referendum was about. At that time, the EU was called the EEC, the European Economic Community. Membership also facilitates co-operation  between the UK and European institutions in many other areas (e.g. defence, medicine and science and technology).

The main advantage of leaving the EU is that the UK would restore sovereignty to its Parliament and regain control of its laws, its borders and immigration. The UK population alone would decide which government took the decisions about UK affairs. The UK government would be free to negotiate, on its own behalf and in its own interests, trade deals with the 85% of the global economy outside the EU.



The main disadvantage for the UK of remaining in the EU is that the EU is aiming for ever closer union between the member states, with the end goal of a federal United States of Europe. This goal has been stated and restated by the European Commission many times over the years, most recently by Claude Juncker in mid September 2017. And, to be fair, this ultimate objective was explicit in the founding Treaty of Rome (although not publicised during the UK’s first referendum on the issue).  Achievement of this goal would mean the UK’s politics, economy (including fiscal policy) and laws were controlled by a distant European Parliament attempting to represent the UK and 27 or more other countries, all with their own divergent economies, different languages and varied priorities.

The main disadvantage for the UK in leaving the EU is the threat of the imposition of tariffs and other trade barriers by the EU which would damage the UK economy.  Other possible disadvantages are the exclusion by the EU of the UK from many European institutions with which the UK would wish to continue to cooperate.


3              DISCUSSION

Any objective analyst would accept that there is some truth in both sides of the argument. The referendum, however, invited the British people to make a binary decision; stay in or leave. So to determine a fair assessment of the EU, we need to unpick the advantages and disadvantages of the EU.

The main arguments for Brexit are:

1.    control of our own affairs

2.    democratic accountability

Neither argument is simple. 

In today’s interdependent world, no country has total control of its own affairs. But there is a difference between having primary control in your own country and ceding that primary control to others outside your country.  As a member of the EU, we have ceded at least some of our sovereignty to the EU and, if the EU ever achieves its goal of complete union, we will presumably have to cede it all.

Democratic accountability is also complicated.  There currently seems to be a movement around the democratic world to devolve powers.  The feeling is that centralised power tends to become remote from the individual and that it is better to follow a policy of subsidiarity. If centralised power within a country, where most of the people speak the same language and acknowledge the same cultural norms, is seen as remote and problematic, how well will democratic accountability fare in a federal United States of Europe? Attempts in the UK to stimulate democratic interest.in the institutions of the EU resulted in the election of a majority for UKIP, the party dedicated to extricating the UK from the EU.

We also need to distinguish between the EU and Europe.  Europe is a geographical entity consisting of just under 50 countries, of which, currently, 28 are members of the EU. The UK is, and always will be, part of Europe. Indeed it is the second or third largest European economy.  The history of the UK has been intertwined with the rest of Europe for many centuries.  Leaving the EU does not mean leaving Europe. Some remainers (of dubious mental capacity) have taken the view that they will never again be able to visit European countries. I’m old enough to remember travelling freely all round Europe before we joined the EEC.  Whatever the outcome of negotiations, we’ll still be able to slip across the channel and we will still be able to drink French wine.

What are the main arguments for remaining in the EU. Again there seem to be two main arguments:

1.    a desire to remain part of the brotherhood of EU members

2.    fear

Those who feel that the 28 members of the EU constitute a benign, enlightened brotherhood will no doubt hold to their view.  If such a view can survive the almost complete impoverishment of Greece, mass youth unemployment throughout the Mediterranean member states, the emergence in several EU countries of extreme right wing political parties, (not to mention the obscenely bloated Brussels bureaucracy where 10,000 officials earn more than the British prime minister), then there is probably only one argument that might convince them to review their opinion of the EU.

That argument is the second and most powerful argument for remaining a member of the EU. That reason is fear.  How much damage will the EU do to the UK in order to punish it for leaving and to deter others from following the UK path? (After all, the EU is scarcely popular in any member country. It isn’t popular even in Germany which effectively controls the EU Commission.)

We should note that the main disadvantages to the UK of leaving would ensue entirely from actions taken by the EU. The UK wants to have free trade with Europe (as it does now) and will wish to cooperate with many European institutions (as it does now).  Free trade and the cooperation with European institutions are to the advantage of both the UK and the EU.  Of course the EU is perfectly entitled to exclude us from these mutually beneficial arrangements but, if they do, surely it will be the act of an inward-looking, protectionist organisation, not a benign, outward-looking, liberal project.. After all, if the EU is seeking free trade deals with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (amongst others), surely it should welcome a free trade agreement with the UK, which is a far larger economy than the others, except for the USA, and which, unlike those other countries, already meets all the standards and requirements of the EU.

I’m tempted to quote, in altered form, a remark of Groucho Marks. 

         “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that tried to damage me if I wanted to leave.” 

It’s estimated we’ve paid £180 billion (net) into the EU since we joined. On our retirement, a half decent institution would give us a gold watch and wish us every success for the future, not ask us to continue to pay for an organisation to which we no longer belong and which we believe, despite our protestations,  is heading in the wrong direction.

The EU Commission is deeply upset that a major net contributor to its budget wishes to withdraw.  It will lose  some £150,000,000 a week (that's the minimum net amount of money we hand over to the EU and never see again) which in the past it has been able to spend on itself and on bribing other member states to remain loyal.  It has therefore made the entirely irrational and unfulfillable demand that we settle "the divorce bill" before we talk about our future trading relationship. After all, until we know how much damage they intend to inflict on the UK economy, we cannot possibly know how much money we could afford to pay for access to the single market, not to mention how to settle arrangements for the Northern Ireland border.

It is impossible to negotiate with the Brussels bureaucrats because it is their way of life which is at risk; but it is possible that the leading member states will see the need for a more pragamtic and economically sane approach.  What are the chances?  Well, if we present a united front as a country and present a powerful case, our chances are pretty good.  If a little under half the country and an entirely unscrupulous opposition demand we accept any deal on offer ("any deal is better than no deal") and that we have a second referendum at the end of the negotiations, our chances are so close to zero as to be unmeasurable.  If that's what the remainers want, their revenge will prove to be a poisoned chalice from which they, as well as the rest of us, will have to drink.