Tuesday 6 September 2016

Technocracy is here to stay

I'm not so concerned by calls for a second referendum. There isn't going to be one. Democracy is not "hanging by a thread". There are no dark forces amassing to derail Brexit. What we have are sore losers who are presently incapable of organising themselves into a coherent movement. Lib Dems, Labour and the remains of the remain campaign. They cannot tell Mrs May she cannot invoke Article 50 and there is no appetite for a second referendum.

There is only really one choice left to be made. One between a careful measured Brexit that allows us to evolve slowly out of the EU - and then a Brexit that needless completely fucks everything with little chance of bouncing back to our present standing.

The latter is on the table because some think that Brexit offers us a choice between "Brussels bureaucracy" and the free world. But as we find with most things, if we scrub away the Brussels bureaucracy we find Geneva bureaucracy. There is no wiping the slate clean nor is there any buccaneering "free trade". There are global rules for trade which are just as extensive, just as bureaucratic and just as opaque as anything produced by the EU.

The nexus of international organisations create a worldwide rules based systems governing everything from customs to tariffs all the way through to marketing standards and agricultural practices.

What makes Brexit complex is that even out of the EU we still have to play by the rules. There are legacy rules we must conform to and there are rules that countries not in the EU must obey in order to trade with the EU. Then there are those rules that apply to everyone only they come to our statue book via the EU which have to be re-registered with a number of global organisations.

Some believe that Brexit is simply a matter of sketching out a free trade deal and then we are free to slash and burn regulations like they never existed so we can trade with the lesser developed nations who don't have all these pesky rules. Except that world has not existed for two decades now. Even Bangladesh follows the same health codes and regulations as the UK and they can't export unless they can prove the conform.

And so this notion that Brexit is becoming the province of "educated nincompoops" trying to manage away the Brexit process is a bogus one. The fact is that we have to be global citizens now and Brexit has to be by the book. If we want trade agreements once we have left then our ability to get them depends on our reputation for upholding international law and honouring our treaties. Simply ripping up contracts "because democracy" is not on the cards if we wish to maintain our current level of exports.

We really have to navigate one of the most intricate legal systems ever devised coming from a position of having completely abandoned that kind of administration for four decades. Almost everything to do with trade and regulation has been surrendered to the EU and the process of bringing it back under our control is a mammoth task.

In this we are discovering systems and subsystems that we never knew existed. I was only dimly aware of the TIR system until recently and now I find that there is the AEO system and all of the customs processes developed since 9/11. As to banking rules and trade in services, you will notice that I seldom speak on such matters. Better to say nothing and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.

But in this age where cross border trade in goods is diminishing while we increasingly export innovations, the issue of digital rights and intellectual property and patents comes into play. This is a major sector that makes up a significant portion of our GDP. It is governed by the EU as well as WIPO, ITU and the EU. Not to mention the WTO at the centre of it.

If you have been following recent developments then you know that the process of breaking away from the EU to become an actor in our own right at the WTO is no small undertaking. The problematisers make out that it is next to impossible as it requires approval of all other members - which isn't actually true but it is a serious undertaking which has the potential to stall the Brexit process.

Effectively, a unilateral withdrawal would be like bulldozing a house without checking for occupants. As much as it is murderously negligent it doesn't make you very popular in the wider neighbourhood. The people who advocate this do so from a position of complete ignorance. They would gleefully pull the plug on the whole thing just to see what happens in order to rebuild it in accordance with their own dogmas.

The truth is that if we really wanted to depart from all this bureaucracy and go back to a world where things were simpler we would not only have to leave the EU but withdraw entirely from the entire international order and pull out of every multilateral agreement. If you want to make that case I am sure a compelling case could be made but the fact is that if your aim is to move away from technocracy and complexity then Brexit does absolutely nothing for you and would put us in a minority of nations where the nearest comparable nation is Zimbabwe or North Korea. Even China is a fully signed up to the global rules based trading system. There is no winding the clock back.

Brexit is about asserting ourselves as an independent actor within a global community. It means making our own decisions free of EU interference and it means the EU cannot tell us how to vote. It does not mean that the UK is free to do as it pleases and though we have a considerably large economy it is largely built on the basis that we do follow the rules which is why the banks keep their money here.

So really it is not a matter of stalling Brexit. What matters is that we disabuse hardliner Brexiteers of their daft notion and win the battle for a managed and well executed Brexit that doesn't collapse our exports and ruin our international prestige. I am in no rush to press the Article 50 button until this dispute is resolved.

If Brexit is going to work for Britain then we will need to engage more on all the multilateral forums and be a leading global citizen within the institutions that govern trade. We will need to be a leading light in exporting the methods and tools for implementing good governance. That is how we prosper.

And though Brexit will cost us in the interim, this is ultimately why Britain will be richer and and more influential outside the EU. Right now we are having a very serious debate about our trade strategy, exploring the methods and tools at our disposal. It is a debate no longer confined to the tatty offices of the Commission in Brussels. It is a nationwide debate which participation form every sector, with just about every industry engaging with the government to ensure we get a good deal.

In this we are building consultation mechanisms that will outlive the Brexit process and business will get used to the idea of steering trade policy same as the wider public will reacquaint themselves with the topic as a facet of our politics.

Until then managerialism reigns supreme while we work out what has been done to us and how. There are no shortcuts and there are no magic wands. It will be a slow deliberative process and there will be little room for ideologies and political mantras. In most respects the political battles have been made obsolete by way of having a developed system that needs no politics.

As much as anything our rules trade rules exist to prevent conflicts and to resolve disputes. And they work. If you want it some other way you will have to develop a viable alternative and quickly - but you won't find many takers. In the final analysis the world is better now than it was before all this "red tape" and you'd miss it if it were gone in ways you never anticipated. This is the era of technocracy. Get used to it.

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