Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Four Posts on Brexit; 4. Lost and found

So what have we gained from Brexit and what have we lost? We can't be sure, because we don't know what the alternative to EU membership will be. There were no plans, no thinking about the future, nothing. Incredibly, the majority voted for a void. They voted for a negative - non-membership. Sure there were suggestions about what may happen, but nothing concrete. Promises were rapidly withdrawn once the campaign was over. But then what do you expect? A binary referendum like this was an invitation to dishonesty. So what follows is only guesswork.



We have voluntarily given away the one thing millions of people all over the world crave, something people risk their lives for, a European Union passport. We will cease to be citizens of the EU. My citizenship has been forcibly taken from me. And if you want to see what it is like not to have an EU passport, read this.


See Nina Avramovic Trninic's conclusion from the piece I linked to above:
I cannot feel for the UK in general, given that thousands of Europeans, Asians, and Africans have lived this life for years and decades, and were happy to have the opportunity to live under normal circumstances.
The UK brought itself into this “lose-lose” situation.
And it has two options:
• The UK can proceed with the Brexit and experience the “luxurious” life of the non-EU citizen.
• Or the British can bite their tongues, say we are sorry and not proceed with leaving the EU. They turn from a spoiled, favorite child into a grown-up, responsible country and face the reality.
The reality is, you UK citizens have great lives. Your children are not drowning, fighting for their lives as they try to reach Europe. You are not bombed every day. You have good jobs that make it possible to pay the taxes and your expenses. You are the financial center of the world/Europe.
So stop whining about how hard everything is and deal with it!
Greek friends have said, 'why don't they like us? We like them.' Most think we must be mad.


The three nations central to determining the policy of the EU were Germany, France and us. Yes, we were one of the big players. Now we are not. Yet, whatever the relationship we have with the EU in the future, we will not make the policy.

Being part of EU wide schemes

Driving licences - pet passports? What becomes of them? Do we have to scrap them? Will we have to bring back quarantine?  And this is only what I can think of off the top of my head.

EU Funding

There are so many schemes that underpin much of what we do and build.
European Social Fund
European Regional Development Fund
European Agriculture Fund for Rural Development
(Cornwall must be delighted at voting out – they were due to get €600 million of funding from these)
Agricultural subsidies through the Common Agricultural Policy
Education funding through ERASMUS
Research funding, especially in science through Horizon 2020
Environmental protection projects. I could go on and on. If you want to know more look them up for yourself.
Are we really going to see these replaced by savings from our payment to the EU, savings that we may not even get if we still get access to the single market?


We are seeing some high profile noises about businesses continuing to invest or thinking of divesting from Britain after Brexit. Those who favour exit bang on about the former, those who want to remain talk about the latter. What will matter is less visible. It will be the non-decisions; automatically ruling out Britain because we will not be members of the EU.


This is an odd one. Brexiteers see leaving the EU as enhancing democracy. They point to two things. The first is that they insist that the EU is undemocratic and that we have somehow put ourselves under the rule of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels. The second is that the vote to leave the EU is an expression of the 'will of the people' that must be obeyed. I would argue that both are fictions.

The EU is about shared sovereignty, not its abnegation. It has limited areas of competence and its major policy decisions are made by the member governments and scrutinised by its directly elected parliament. It was set up explicitly to protect and secure democracy in Europe. It's obviously true that the sharing of sovereignty does limit it. You only elect your own government not the government of the other twenty-seven member states who have a say in your future. But this is the nature of all partnerships. Any married person will know that they don't always get their own way. The idea of a wholly independent and autonomous nation state is a chimera. Every state is limited in its actions by treaties, agreements, memberships of transnational organisations, common interests, and, inescapably, reality. The EU is simply one restraint of many.

As for the 'will of the people'; since when has 'the people' consisted of a bare majority of those that voted and less than 40% of those eligible to vote? This is just rhetoric. There is no broad consensus. There are huge generational and regional divisions. The idea that 'the people' can have an incontestable 'will' is an abstraction. The idea that it can be measured with a snapshot of opinion on one day is inconceivable. We need to think a bit more about what democracy is.

Democracy is a principle, but like all political principles it is implemented through systems designed to emphasise some democratic elements over others. Britain is a Parliamentary democracy. The main principles are indirect representation rather than delegation, the protection of minorities from the tyranny of the majority, and Parliamentary sovereignty. All these have been bulldozed by the referendum and its result. The mainstream economist Kenneth Rogoff, is very eloquent about this democratic failure.

Economic Growth

There is a broad consensus amongst the vast majority of economists on this. At least in the short term, Britain will take an economic hit. Tim Harford sees low growth as our main problem in a typically oblique analysis that will irritate many.


The referendum was poorly thought out and the campaign was short and haphazard. It wasn't a deliberative process, it was a festival of lying. I was appalled.

The UK

Scotland and Northern Ireland?



Ten years (at least) of complex negotiations to ensure that we get only a slightly worse deal than the one we already have. Read this and weep.

New friends

Though I have to say they look a bit dodgy to me.

Control of borders

If we can afford it. Have they thought how much it will cost to police EU immigration? Anyway, this article is good.
This popular vision of migration control is a fantasy, based on decades of false promises by politicians who know they cannot deliver. In democracies, states cannot determine who lives where and what they do: they are constrained by practicalities and other interests. States can obstruct movement of foreigners through visas, permits, border refusals and deportation. But attempts to enforce restrictive rules that ignore realities impose enormous cost to the state – financially, economically and socially. They generate expectations that they then fail to meet.
But we might reduce immigration by other means.
Brexit is likely to trigger a significant decrease in immigration, but it will be due to a severe decline in the UK's economic performance rather than government policy.

A spike in racist incidents and gruesome condescension from middle class remain voters about the working class people who voted to leave.

Wishful thinking

It will be wonderful v it won't be that bad v we're doomed. Tim Harford again.


Some things, like the falling value of sterling can be both bad and good. It's good for exporters, but crap for me with a house in Greece. Guess which one I care about.


Now I am trying to be fair here. It will not have escaped you that I am not wholly unbiased in my selection. So here is the thing Brexiteers care most about. We will be free from the EU. OK we had opt outs for the Euro and Schengen so we won't see that much of a difference, but we will be wholly independent - sort of.

There are three visions of an independent Britain put forward by the various bits of the leave campaign.

1. We can become a free trade paradise. Low taxes, low regulation, and open borders.
2. We can restore our nation to its former self. A strong welfare state, conservative social values, and restricted immigration.
3. We can become an independent democratic socialist nation state freed from continental neoliberalism (dream on).

Sort that lot out if you can. All three are completely contradictory.

That's it. I have had enough now. The Tory hegemony is here unless events rescue us. Theresa May has rebuilt her cabinet, given the worst jobs to Brexiteers, and sent Boris Johnson on a world tour of ritual humiliation. And as for Labour ... no, let's not go there. Fans of dialectical thinking would notice that there appear to be more than a few contradictions knocking around. What possible synthesis can emerge? I honestly haven't a clue.


SP said...


Thanks so much for these which can have been no mean feat. As ever they are almost entirely congruent with, and have helped coalesce, my thinking.

I suspect, and hope, that on some of the practical stuff there will be an (entirely hypocritically) accommodation with existing European law – so much for “sovereignty”. Beyond that I am profoundly pessimistic.

Best blog response to Brexit bar none.

The Plump said...

Thanks Simon, I blush.

To paraphrase Orwell, if there is hope, it lies with the young. I think this generational divide is pretty profound.

I also think that the contradictions, risks and problems are so difficult there will have to be a compromise. Hard headed Tory governments have never been keen on suicide, which is why they took the precaution of not letting the members vote for the crazy candidate. So you are right, I agree. What form it will take will be interesting.

This is going to take years, and in that time the electorate will change, and being now in my 60s I am less keen on the inevitability of that change. Two other things may happen. Labour may return to sanity and, more likely, the EU will start reconsidering their assumptions, especially on the political economy of the Eurozone. Virtually all the 'threats' the Brexiteers saw could diminish if not entirely disappear (Turkey about to join the EU anyone?). Both have already started, but god knows how long it will take. This means that any second referendum or general election on the terms of exit could be a very different beast. But then there may never be one. So there is hope. But I think your pessimism is well founded and I share it.

Take solace in drink.

The Plump said...

Oh, and it is worth saying that any compromise deal will not be on our terms.

SP said...

Take solace in drink

wise words