Monday 5 September 2016

A process without a destination

If you were outside of parliament today you might have been inclined to shout "Invoke Article 50 now". If however, you were live-tweeting the proceedings on the inside you might well be so horrified you switch sides entirely. I must confess, my commitment to project mayhem was almost in doubt this afternoon.

You see it's all true what the remainers say. Most Brits have no idea what the hell they were voting for. The nuance is that remainers don't either. And though that is nominally an argument for not having a referendum our politicians enjoy no greater enlightenment.

Some people voted for immigration control. Some people voted to cut off payments to the EU. Some voted in order to deregulate. Some voted against technocracy. Some voted for absolute sovereignty. Some voted simply because they hate the EU. Some voted mainly because they hate our politicians and the establishment. Some voted against globalisation. Some voted for more of it.

So how do you reconcile all these conflicting opinions and how do you produce a Brexit that is sufficiently brexity to satisfy the masses while preserving good relations with our allies?

In this, ignorance reigns supreme. Nobody really has a cost effective idea how to reduce immigration. There are only marginal gains to be had from deregulation, everything falls to pieces if you don't have technocracy and in this age of global regulatory harmonisation there is no such thing as absolute sovereignty.

I would venture that voting to leave because you hate the EU is a perfectly valid reason. There isn't much to like about it or its advocates. But then having dealt with most kind of leavers who seem to take pride in the ignorance it s difficult not to despise both sides of the argument.

What's worse is that every stupid assertion requires a detailed and technical rebuttal. In this nobody really wants to know. All they know is they want Brexit as soon as possible yet nobody as yet knows what that is supposed to look like.

The problem is that most people imagine Brexit means going back to that state of independence that existed before the EU. I don't want to be patronising and say people want to wind the clock back but they do want things to be a certain way in a way they can never be again. Supply chains have become ever more sophisticated and integrated where there is simply no value in divergence. Internet has brought people places and things closer. We could dismantle the EU and erase it entirely but the world would still have to turn and it would still require cross border governance in place of the EU.

If it be the case that people want the simplest and most literal Brexit possible then that would be to simply move into the EEA and leave as much in tact as possible. That would on paper accomplish Brexit. And who is going to argue? But then people also want political change. People want a Brexit that is more than just Brexit on paper.

So how is that defined? How much integration do we want, what are we willing to pay for it and what are we willing to sacrifice to have our cake and eat it. Everybody enjoys the product of free movement of goods and services yet politically they oppose it.

And this is the problem with such an open ended and ill conceived referendum question. We voted not for an alternative. We simply voted to dismantle the status quo without specifying a destination. Thus we are in a limbo. We must devise a Brexit that avoids economic chaos that also appeases the unappeasable. It is likely we will be no closer to defining that even by Christmas.

It's all very well saying we should just get on with it but we must first learn the anatomy of the beast and understand its functions before cutting away at the many strands of integration.

As it happens, some of us did go to the trouble of doing exactly that and we did produce a plan but a certain anti-intellectualism grips the land whereby people would rather not engage in the complexities and have absolutely zero interest in shaping the outcome. They seem to think that building a new model for government comes after the Brexit process. Not so. A transition has to go from one state of being to another.

If it were all down to me I would be invoking Article 50 sometime next year but that's after two years of extensive analysis of the issues. But it's not up to me. It's up to a political process involving one of the worst crops of politicians in living memory. One that is impossibly attached to obsolete narratives and incapable of comprehending what has been built over the last forty years at a very granular level by technocrats, lawyers and experts.

This is like asking cavemen to reverse engineer a jumbo jet. They could conceivably break it down into its components but would have no greater understanding of how it worked and would have no real ability to reassemble and fly it.

But then we are are told that the same time that expertise is neither trusted nor demanded. So what's to be done? Without answering the very basic questions you cannot conceivably commit to a negotiation.

For sure would could just pull the plug and let this civilisation of ours grind to a halt but I don't imagine for a moment this is what the majority voted for and never imagined Brexit had the capacity to do that. Well, it does.

Foolishly the remain camp overplayed their hand to the point where nobody believed them. There's always a problem with crying wolf. But there are risks if we pull certain levers and we need to be clear that everyone is clear on what happens when we pull on them.

The ultimate joke is that if people do not want to understand the issues and do not wish to participate in that deliberative process then once again we surrender the process to the technocrats to simply reconfigure the system according to their best guess.

Ironically, the Spiked "Invoke Article 50 Now" protest in London today was a a group who largely celebrate the mass availability of consumer goods. This does not happen without technocracy and systems of good governance. The very thing they oppose. The group is also broadly in favour of freedom of movement. Yet most would say if we are leaving the EU then it must be curtailed. It seems to me that if the public cannot reconcile their own basic hypocrisy then how can they expect the same of their politicians?

How can one say one is defending democracy when one is perfectly at ease with abdicating the details to the politicians. Is there any real advantage in transferring the technocracy from Brussels to London if the same basic lack of engagement exists?

The notion that we simply instruct our politicians to "get on with it" without defining what that means is to simply abdicate the running of our own affairs to government - which really makes our predicament entirely our own fault. In which case, what am I expending another nanosecond on this for? If the people themselves are not defining what Brexit means then we might as well not bother at all.

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