Richard North, 13/03/2015  

000a ECFR-013 Leonard.jpg

While Farage is dragging the Ukip agenda further and further away from the task of leaving the EU, the exit debate continues without him, and with a remarkable intensity, leaving the ostensibly anti-EU party entirely without a voice on the issue.

Latest into the lists is Mark Leonard's European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), with a paper on the "British problem" and an analysis so trite that we are able to take some comfort from it. However bad our lot might be, Mr Leonard and his friends are even worse in their understanding of the issues.

Leonard is one of those "pro-Europeans" who insists on calling members of the anti-EU movement "Europhobes" – mildly irritating but harmless, and a usage that actually demeans him, revealing him as the petty-minded individual that he really is.

Actually, to call his analysis "trite" is something of a compliment. He tells us that the "risk of Brexit" is not driven by a Eurosceptic public but by a "Europhobic elite" that has conflated immigration with Europe and then, totally off-beam, argues that "Britain's Europhobes have a powerful intellectual framework", as well as "wealthy backers, and advocates in the media, the House of Commons, and even the Cabinet".

Would indeed that there was a "powerful intellectual framework", especially when Mr Leonard asserts, in his report, the single reference to intellectualism is in a reference to "the biggest triumph of UKIP". This, he asserts, has been to fuse the European issue with migration – arguing that the EU has taken away domestic control of Britain's borders.

In an interview last year, we are told, Farage conceded that he struggled for years to work out how to make Euroscepticism a popular cause before he got hold of immigration as the way to make it connect: "These things did seem to be rather intellectual debates rather than things that were affecting everyday lives", he said.

In other words, Mr Leonard is saying that it was not until Farage broke away from the "rather intellectual debates" that he managed to make "euroscepticism" work for him. The great pro-European thus contradicts his own thesis. If Ukip is "eurosceptic", it is also anti-intellectual.

Cutting through the blether, however, there is one section which could help us in our work on devising a suitable exit plan – something the anti-intellectual Ukip has still not got round to doing.

Under the sub-heading, "Brexit fallout and contagion" we learn that, around the EU, there is "a widespread fear" of four elements. Of these, one is that "Europe" without Britain would be "smaller and poorer". The EU would miss the practical application of a well-oiled government machine that has helped drive forward European integration, and leaving the EU would have an "immediate impact on the UK's immediate neighbours" – such as Ireland.

What I find particularly interesting, though, is the first of the elements identified, which is given a lengthy treatment. In this, there is concern about "the chaos unleashed by a Brexit", and in particular, "the thousands of hours that would need to go into re-writing laws and negotiating new terms". "Untying the links between the UK and its closest partners", Leonard adds: "would consume a huge amount of political and bureaucratic energy".

Here, it is just as well that the "great pro-European" hasn't read Flexcit (not that, on current form, he'd understand it), for it keeps him in ignorance of the answer to that problem, which has us adopting the Norway Option, and repatriating the EU acquis – as an interim option – which minimises the administrative burden.

This brings to mind the crucial issue of "absorption capacity", which I deal with in Flexcit - a measure of the ability of a system to absorb change.

Obviously, Leonard would be right if, as he believes will happen, the UK looks for a de novo free trade agreement with the EU, then the burden will be huge. But if, for the time being, we adopt our "off-the-shelf" solution, the amount of effort required is minimised.

It is encouraging, therefore, that we already have answers to the concerns that could well be voiced in any EU referendum, even if – as Boiling Frog points out, the "out" side is less than unified in coming together to adopt a winning strategy to leave.

That came from Mr Frog after a lunch with White Wednesday, who then offered this comment to our previous post:
My frustration [on this] … can easily come over as "why can't we all just be friends?" i.e., the big tent stuff you refer to. But it is only a big tent in the sense of a meeting point to debate and challenge. I'm not one for some woolly consensus that fails to satisfy anyone. The anti-EU movement doesn't so much look like a spectrum of views but a line of islands separated by shark-infested waters ... move to the consensus space in between and you get eaten alive.
At least now, though, we can take it that the pro-EU lobby is unaware of our [necessary] disunity, and that we already have answers to most of their major concerns.

In conclusion, it is worth noting that one of Leonard's concerns is that, with the UK leaving, the diminution of the existing EU would have a corrosive effect on international perceptions of the EU. After the "no" vote on the Constitutional treaty the EU went from seeming like a rising power to a failing project, and this would reinforce that perception.

However, this comes just as Iceland has formally decided to drop its application to join the EU – thus deciding to keep within the terms of the EEA and to cooperate with the EU as it has done previously.

What's good enough for Iceland – from which we can learn a great deal, and where Flexcit has been avidly read - is more than good enough for the UK. The EU need only be seen as a "failing project" if it lacks the capability to adjust to the new reality, where cooperation rather than political union becomes the watchword.

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