Politicians do politics whilst people and businesses are usually forced by circumstances to do practicalities. When the two diverge or conflict on a particular subject, politics wins for the politician and practicalities of necessity takes priority for people and businesses. And, for completeness bureaucrats do bureaucracy (it’s their raison d’être), the more rules, the more gold-plating of rules and the more enforcement of rules (procedures and processes) the better.
Hence from the moment Mrs May, a consummate politician, said ‘Brexit means Brexit’ we were landed with a political Brexit, not a practical Brexit if we have any kind of Brexit at all. It suits the exigencies of the Conservative Party and the ambitions and survival in power of Mrs May. Politics is about gaining and keeping power. This involves creating ‘favourable’ appearances (and impressions in the eyes of the electorate), scoring points against others, concealing the whole (unfavourable) truth and often degenerates into outright deceit. ‘U’ turns and admitting mistakes are obviously to be avoided.
Over in Brussels, whilst Brexit from the perspective of the European Union there is a political dimension in the European Council, it is mainly a bureaucratic process with severe constraints imposed by the EU’s bureaucracy and legally imposed regulations. Anyone with experience of the EU’s workings will probably be able to recall with some frustration anecdotal examples of just how inflexible and rule-bound the EU is when trying to get anything done or to deviate from the letter of the regulations (directives in EU-speak).
Bureaucratic Brexit, EU style, then is a tangle of complex inflexible regulatory compliances, without deviation and exception. Dr Richard North’s excellent blog Eureferendum.com provides a valuable (and comprehensive) source of well researched information here.
Practical Brexit is something that involves extraction from the political institutions of the EU, allowing greater autonomy of action by our government in future (the return of sovereignty), without risking existing trading relationships with the Single Market. It is a successful combination of reconciling politically inspired British Brexit with bureaucratically-dominated EU Brexit. Can it be done or is ‘walking away’ from negotiations without a deal a viable alternative?
When the worlds of the British politician and the Eurocrat meet, as in negotiating Brexit (Article 50 and a new free trade agreement), almost inevitably there must be mutual incomprehension and little or no progress, even without ulterior motives or undercurrents being present. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for each to enter the mind-set of the other. To add to the difficulty, the ‘devil is in the detail’ and it is only with time and familiarity that the subtleties, implications and ‘stupidities’ of the EU’s regulations and their implementation emerge; our team traditionally doesn’t do detail well.
As time marches on we slip further away from the possibility of achieving a practical Brexit. The idea that trade with the EU can be conducted within World Trade Organisation ‘rules’ (if all else fails) is an impractical non-starter. These are not rules, but ‘principles’ to facilitate reaching trading agreements (between different countries or trading blocs). So no deal is a legal and administrative void which would stumble against ‘the brick wall’ of the EU’s many immovable regulations and lack of organisational preparedness for vastly increased workloads; they were not expecting us to vote to leave.
But even Mrs May’s ‘deep and special relationship’ between the UK and EU would often face those self-same hurdles to seamless access to the Single Market (or European Economic Area, EEA); after Brexit the UK becomes a ‘third country’ to be treated the same way as any other country not a member of the EEA. So is a ‘U’ turn or betrayal of Brexit ‘on the cards’?
If Mrs May doesn’t deliver Brexit a fate on a par with Mrs Thatcher’s at the hands of the grey suits obviously awaits because of loss of support for the Conservative Party in the country. The party might even split along Brexiteer and Europhile lines. Yet her current publicly stated aspiration for leaving the EU with a top notch free trade agreement on 29th March 2019 between the EU and UK (as outlined above) is fraught with impracticalities and the walk away option is also an impractical non-starter. So where does she go to next?
At some stage the irreconcilable impracticalities of Mrs May’s and Mr Davis’s current course will inflict too high a political price on the Conservative Party; potentially oblivion in 2022 or sooner. Spin, playing a blame game with the EU and ignorant indifference by the media can only go so far in concealing the truth from the mass of an increasingly worried electorate. What happens then, hopefully, is concentrated efforts by the government, its friends and the EU to deliver a practical Brexit within confines of the EU’s bureaucratic Brexit. The key to ultimate success is in continuing membership of the EEA but under different terms which allow greater UK government autonomy especially over subjects of particular concern to the electorate, such as controlling migration, securing borders and fighting terrorism. Mrs May or her successor needs to make a ‘U’ turn over EEA membership (in spin terms ‘an exciting refocusing of efforts, with our European partners, to achieve a deep and special relationship’ et al).
Membership of the European Free Trade Association, EFTA, would provide different more flexible terms for membership of the EEA and at much lower cost than through membership of the EU. For example, it will indeed allow control of migration from EU member states, via unilateral implementation of the safeguard provisions in Article 112 of the EEA Agreement. And the European Court of Justice does not apply to EFTA countries.
Come on Mrs May, there is no time like the present to set a new direction away from potential chaos and political oblivion to a practical and complete Brexit on 29th March 2019.