Richard North, 10/10/2016  
 


The media is undergoing one of its periodic frenzies, stripping sense out of what is probably one of the most important – and complex - political issues since the Second World War.

The media as a grouping have been caught out wholesale, trying to deal with something they don't understand. Even worse, they lack the means to make sense of it but, with the arrogance with which they are so often imbued, assume their audiences are as lacking in basic knowledge as they are.

Most grievous of the media sins is to reduce the complexity of Brexit to a simple binary choice between a "soft" and "hard", creating a fictional narrative for alternatives which aren't even on the table – all for want of their ability correctly to analyse and report the actual scenarios confronting government.

Not in a million years could any responsible government beggar the country by opting for what is loosely called the "hard" Brexit, leaving the idea to reside in the foetid brains of the Tory Right wing, and the Brexit zealots, most of whom have as little an idea as the media of what is going on.

Whatever the actual outcome, the Government is going to be focused initially on a Brexit which minimises the economic perturbation. It will do so because it wants to win the 2020 General Election and a Brexit which leaves everyone poorer and an economy in chaos is a sure way to ensure the furniture vans are lined up outside Down Street the morning after the result is declared.

Thus, the question which has to be addressed is the very question that is being ignored by the media and the political noisemakers, that of how the government goes about protecting the nation's economic interests.

To categorise that as a "soft" Brexit, though, is completely to miss the point. When the CBI, the Economist and Chancellor Philip Hammond are all beginning to catch up, referring to "transitional" arrangements, they are recognising that which anyone with a brain had long realised: Brexit is a process, not an event.

Those who do recognise this, and apply their minds to the consequences, realise that there are two issues that have to be addressed. Firstly, the nature of the "transitional" or "interim" arrangements must be identified and, secondly, the end game – about which precious little has been discussed – must be defined.

On the second point, of course, without an end game, a transitional arrangement is not transitional. It becomes the end game. Thus, to sell the whatever the interim scenario it settles upon – which is, by its very nature, going to be sub-optimal – the Government is going to have to put its cards on the table, and start talking about what the EU-UK relationship is going to be looking like in, say, twenty years time.

To that end, it is pointless blathering about a Canadian-style free trade agreement – or any other such arrangement – if the interim option has been to maintain participation in the Single Market. That is the most extensive and sophisticated free market in the world – far more so than CETA or any other second-generation FTA – so it makes little sense to abandon that arrangement for something worse.

If the Government is to make a fist of it, therefore, it is going to have to apply its imagination, and work on the inclination of its learning curve, tilting it decisively in an upwards direction to encompass the effects of globalisation and, in particular, global standards-setting.

But rather than wait for the media to drag its limited brain powers, and even slighter attention span, into the next phase of the argument, the Government is going to have to set the agenda and bring to the public's attention these matters. It is no use waiting for the media to catch up. The average hack has a nose bleed even thinking about such things.

To duck the issue is not an option. There is far too much focus on the immediate mechanics of withdrawal, and no agreement on which option to take. Furthermore, there never will be agreement, as every option available is sub-optimal.

For Government to sell a sub-optimal solution to the public is non-starter, so it must identify its end game, to talk it up and then position its immediate Brexit plan as a stepping stone to the greater good.

Sensible people understand the concept of short-term sacrifice for the long-term good, and the idea of delayed gratification, but if this is to be the Government's strategy (and it is the only credible one), then it has to make the case.

And in this, it has a great deal in common with the other EU Member States. They, like the UK Government, need to drown out the negatives with a positive vision of what a future Europe will look like. And, although we may be taking a divergent path, that does not mean we cannot share a common vision for the continent as a whole.

That makes the essence of the end game a process of turning a negative a positive. Brexit is a serious challenge, but it is also an opportunity. But that opportunity must be spelled out.

On the broader picture, just over a week ago, a few of us were in Leamington Spa, discussing that way forward for The Harrogate Agenda (THA), now that the referendum is over.

Those familiar with Flexcit will know that THA forms phase six of the plan, presented on the answer to UK governance reform. There is no point, we aver, recovering powers from Brussels, only to return them to Parliament and the very people who gave them away in the first place.

Thus, it is not only for Government to spell out its end game. We the people must insist on changes which will ensure that, never again, can our MPs give away our powers to an alien government.

But when it comes to sovereignty, the march of globalisation means that, progressively, much of our legislative power is being vested in a bewildering variety of bodies, with little in the way of transparency and accountability. Leaving the EU, therefore, is not going to solve all our problems. It is a start – a good one, but only a start.






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