Richard North, 03/01/2017  

Following on from the discussion broached in yesterday's piece on the "information nexus", it is probably fair to say that its greatest failure has been its inability to define a credible end game for Brexit.

It is thus left for incoherent pundits to rely on ill-defined aspirations of a "free trade agreement" with the EU, the effect of which would be to lock the UK into position which is considerably less favourable than it currently enjoys.

Some ideas now descend into perversity, representing a staggering degree of illogicality. For instance, where the idea of using Efta-EEA as an interim option is rejected, the outcome can only be less favourable than might otherwise have been achieved had we bitten the bullet.

On the other hand, adoption of Efta-EEA as a precursor to negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU creates a potential situation where the interim option is tolerable (at least in the short- to medium-term) while the end game represents a deterioration in that position. We will be in the bizarre position of buying time to make things worse. 

In that continued participation in the Single Market via Efta-EEA itself represents a less favourable position than is achieved by full EU membership, all the negotiations and the entire Brexit process will have achieved in trade terms, is damage to the current position. 

It takes little imagination then to realise that this is not an outcome – or even a negotiating objective - that the Government would find it easy to sell. Certainly, it might explain why Mrs May has been reluctant to spell out any detail, and has confined herself to vague "motherhood and apple pie" statements.

However, even the best offerings of the "information nexus" fall far short of improving the UK's trading position with the EU. Mostly, it seems to rely on making up for a deteriorating position with improvements elsewhere in our global trading portfolio – again without specifying any detail or giving any assurances that delivery is possible.

Tied in with this is the oft' expressed position of the European Union and its Member States – that it cannot afford to allow the UK to improve upon its current position, thereby rewarding it for disrupting the Union and, ultimately, causing it great damage.

Clearly, to take all these constraints on board and then to come up with a solution for a Brexit end-game which delivers an improved position for the UK, was never going to be easy. That explains, if not excuses, the failure of the "information nexus" and the assorted noise-makers who populate the Brexit debate. 

Nevertheless, all of us have to confront the reality that, when it comes to options for an end-game, the choices are somewhat less than infinite. But, even if finding an appropriate solution is not easy, it is not impossible if a certain amount of logic is applied. 

A good place to start is with historical precedents – alternatives to the EU which didn't quite make it. Another working criterion which might help is to go with the flow. It is usually a much better idea to go with the grain of history, developing that which already exists rather then trying to build anew, relying on untried systems.

Thirdly, while there is talk of the EU "punishing" the UK for leaving, and while others talk of the harm done to the "project", it would be helpful to explore solutions which confer benefits to all parties. There is no reason, in principle, why Brexit has to be a zero sum game. If everybody gets something, an agreement will be that much easier to reach.

And that is where phase three of Flexcit takes us, with the development of a genuine European Single Market, taken away from the political EU in Brussels and relocated with the United Nations Economic Commission Europe, in Geneva.. 

Crucially, this idea of was not plucked out of thin air - it is a logical consequence of meeting the three criteria set out above. In historical terms, re-locating the management of the Single Market to an expanded UNECE in Geneva, and bringing it to all the countries in Europe on an intergovernmental basis was exactly the idea that Churchill proposed to the Congress of Europe on 7 May 1948.

But for a number of historical accidents, and the perseverance of Jean Monnet, this could easily have been the actual outcome of events, and there is no reason why this historical timeline could not be partially reinstated.

Therein lies the rub. With WP.49 as an example, UNECE is gradually picking up the threads of the past, and asserting itself as the leader of a market organisation, gradually putting into place exactly those systems which Churchill proposed – with the EU voluntarily ceding legislative authority.

The reason why the EU should do this so willingly is not difficult to work out. In 1957, when the original Six signed the Treaty of Rome, Europe still seemed a big place. But, with the emergence of globalisation, Europe's proportion of global GDP has fallen and, as developing economies continue to grow, the EU's GDP, proportionately, will continue to fall.

Despite the inward-looking, protectionist instincts of some of the Member States, the EU needs globalisation. The Single Market under the management of Brussels is not delivering the growth that the bloc needs. On the other hand, UNECE and the growing number of global, standards-setting organisations, orchestrated by G-20, can make it happen.

The important thing here is that co-opting UNECE as the body responsible for the administration of the Single Market at European level takes advantage of a hierarchical structure which is already a component of the existing global framework, allowing us to move towards a truly global market. 

From the UK perspective, using the intergovernmental UNECE removes entirely the idea of a Europe of concentric circles. No longer will the EU dominate the core, with the peripheral nations in a subordinate or inferior position. Instead, the Single Market becomes a partnership of equals, allowing the development of the Single European Space that Delors envisaged and, before him, Churchill imagined. 

Even then, the global process is stalling and needs to be kick-started. An independent UK, taking an active part in those organisations, can do this, adding the impetus that could energise the global system.

This is what is exciting about Brexit – not the tired, cliché-driven ideas of Britain reverting to 18th Century free-trade doctrines, and doing a deal with the EU which is a pale shadow of what it already has. Rather, it gives us the opportunity to act as a catalyst, reshaping European and global trade by undoing the dreadful mistake that took us into the EEC in 1973.

If we don't do this, if we fail to take the opportunities afforded and define the end game, Brexit will be a failure, and we will pay a terrible price. So will the EU and the rest of Europe and, potentially, so will every other nation on earth. 

What is so staggering, therefore, is the small-minded approach to Brexit and an almost total lack of vision which would have us grubbing around in the weeds as people with tiny intellects struggle to make sense of things they don't understand and can't visualise.

These are the people who prattle on about "hard" and "soft" Brexits, and even the "grey", "clean", and "semi-skimmed" Brexits, which define their limitations.

For some of us though, who have put in a life's work into this enterprise, Brexit is too important to be left to the politicians, the media and the other intellectual pygmies who have so far made such a hash of things. We need Brexit and, to make Brexit work, we need an end game which transcends the tedious obsession with the mechanics of withdrawal and offers a creative vision for the future.

We have but a little time, and all our futures depend on it.

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