I have recently taken the opportunity to read Theresa May’s letter on triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
I would like to take to this soapbox to comment that she has missed the obvious grounds on which to ignore the result of the June 23rd 2016 referendum, which is to point out that on due calm assessment leaving can have no realistically-obtainable overall positive benefit, as is acknowledged openly in her letter. The most beneficial outcome is a non-negative result. This should have been appreciated before the referendum, but as there was no specific “Leave” concept before the referendum the fact that it has only become apparent afterwards is not grounds to ignore it. As the facts become more readily appreciated, one should broaden one’s mind to take this into account.
Two years today, or in 730 days, we will lose direct and automatic access to the European single market – the only market with which we have a land border, which surrounds us on all sides, which is wholly more geographically adjacent to us than any other market (London to the eastern border of Latvia is 1,500 miles; London to Morocco is a little over that; Western Ireland to Newfoundland is just over 2,000) and with which we have and should reasonably continue to have most of our trade. In losing immediate access to this market, we lose the ability to influence its rules. We could, for example, have resolved the “Polish lorry driver” problem by promoting in Europe environmental rules insisting that trans-continental freight traffic should go by rail. There is enough of it and the Poland-UK corridor is long and narrow enough to fill direct freight trains. The EU, in directing the establishment of key transport corridors around the Union, has the high-level authority and funding clout to deliver this sort of scheme continent-wide. In the relatively short-term, this would reduce the need for lorry drivers across the continent, justify rail companies making the co-ordination and investment decisions to meet the logistical needs and improve the continent’s carbon footprint. (Nobody in a low-margin/ loss-making uncertain business like continental European railfreight spends a year lining up train path, wagons, crew and locomotives with the potential to discover that the Day 1 load consists of half a removal van and no authority is willing to provide hard cash until things get better.) As much of Europe has invested in common designs of UK-sized diesel locomotive (if not standard means of supplying electricity to trains for tractive power) this would not actually have been a difficult game to play if anyone had cared enough to use the EU positively in this regard. As an individual state, all we can demand is that Polish lorry drivers trans-ship their goods onto British trains or lorries at Calais. This will increase our costs at negligible benefit to both ourselves and the Union.
The worst-case outcome is a “crash-out” in two years’ time. This will cause a minor humanitarian crisis, as EU citizens risk the potential of being rounded up and deported (and, having finished panicking at the newspapers, deport themselves to save time); threaten the border between the two halves of Ireland, with the possibility of obliging the Government to make reunion arrangements; justify the Scottish National Party holding another referendum on the break-up of the United Kingdom; and, as the Prime Minister points out herself, increase the risk of security problems caused by disjointed policing and a lack of intelligence-sharing.
The withdrawal from the European Atomic Energy Community is a small side-touch that will deprive us of access to a community of technology in a small, complicated sector which brings much high-value development potential to key parts of the UK. On the positive side, it may leave us unable to build any more nuclear power stations.
As a heavyweight power in the EU, providing the largest military heft, offering world-beating security and technological skills and a positive budgetary input, we have a relatively substantial ability to dictate policy – as the EU keeps kindly pointing out by remarking on the enthusiasm shown by our Governments down the years for free trade, to the point where we vetoed punitive taxes on Chinese steel inputs and in the process put our own steelworks out of business. The policies dictated to the EU may not be the policies that we want to dictate as a people, but if our Government is not dictating policy that is in our interests as a nation (or failing to explain why it is in our interests) then that is a problem with the Government which is about to be placed in sole charge of our national development. In a way, the EU offers an opportunity to ensure that our priorities as a friendly ex-Imperial nation can be broadcast internationally. It is not unpatriotic to want to maintain our extensive soft power on the Continent, building alliances and exchanging favours in the clean-air back rooms. If our Governments ran the relationship less as an “us and them” affair, as both John Major and Tony Blair briefly tried to (aiming to convince the population rather than kow-tow to the never-possessed with pseudo token “victories”), it can work very much in our favour. Outside the EU, we will have something less than the international status of Japan, which designs very nice short-life technology, has a terrifying work ethic, is in a constant state of deflation and is usually ignored.
Ultimately the “non-negative” outcome aims to maintain economic and security co-operation, allow maximum certainty for businesses which have to plan ahead, create a Free Trade Agreement covering shared economic sectors and maintain our matched regulatory frameworks and standards. It will presumably therefore seek to maintain these matched regulatory frameworks and standards in the future in order to maintain this Free Trade Agreement, which means that when we change our standards we will have to persuade Europe to do likewise and when Europe changes its standards we will be following suit. Where civil servants currently misinterpret and gold-plate European legislation to ensure compliance with our Treaty obligations, they will instead misinterpret and gold-plate European standards to ensure we remain within the terms of our Free Trade Agreement. On the negative outcome, we will have to follow rules created without our input despite us currently being the second largest nation economically within the EU. On the positive outcome, our opinions will be attended to as befits a country with a population of more than half of the residual states put together. This positive outcome is what we have already. We are about to spend millions, if not billions, on ensuring that we maintain our current mildly dysfunctional but usually beneficial relationship with an organisation that we are purporting to be leaving.
This is the most gratuitous waste of money engaged upon since the construction of the Findhorn Railway, which had the small decency to be carried out at private expense. I wholly resent that my tax money, paid to the Government in the belief that it would go on hospitals, schools, transport development, arts, libraries and culture, strategic support and relief for the Third World, national defence, emptying the municipal bins, supporting the poor and ensuring that traditionally less-prosperous countries in Europe have the skills and infrastructure to trade with us effectively will instead be burned on a renegotiation which will get us nowhere.
This is not a time to come together and support the Government. This is a time to come together and ask, when the NHS is struggling, when our schools are stretched, when the verges outside my house are filling with untidied litter, when libraries are closing and the Public Accounts Committee reckons clean electric trains are now beyond the nation’s budget, why it is that we can afford to pursue the vanity project of a consummate delusional idiot who is so pleased with what he’s achieved that he spends all his time on US television?