• What Will Happen After Brexit?

    As the polls suggest yet more insistently the possibility of a vote for Brexit, the language of the Remain campaign becomes ever more extreme.  There is of course hyperbole on both sides of the argument; but while the Leave campaign has without doubt been guilty of using on occasion exaggerated and emotive arguments, the prize for outrage and vehemence must go to those who insist that only the dishonest, recklessly misguided and downright wicked could possibly vote to leave.

    These extreme sentiments are given additional weight by being expressed in the measured and sonorous tones of those who are accustomed to being taken very seriously – the political and business leaders whose views on such matters have always prevailed.  These are the figures who are now being wheeled out with increasing frequency to convince the as yet unconvinced that Brexit would be a disaster of unimaginable proportions.

    And unimaginable is, in their minds, exactly what it is.  In the landscape of their imaginings, to leave the European Union would mean a kind of full stop.  There is no conceivable world that could exist beyond such finality.  It would be the equivalent of toppling over a precipice or of a train running into the buffers at full speed.

    Hence the dire warnings that we would be turning our backs on Europe, or that our trade with the EU would come to a juddering halt, or that our economy would go into free fall.  They can see no future for a post-Brexit Britain because they have neither the wit nor the will – or even the daring – to conceive of such a thing.

    This failure of imagination, this refusal to think beyond the possibility of Brexit, is only to be expected, of course, in the run-up to the fateful decision; to admit it is only to encourage it.  Instead, the Remain campaign repeats with blood-curdling emphasis the threats of retribution pour encourager les autres that are naturally to be heard from our European partners in the weeks and days before the vote.  In the event of a decision to leave, though, all that would change.  The rules of the game would transform overnight.

    The cards in the hands of those involved would no longer be those of dark threats on the one hand and schoolboy “Yah, boo, sucks!” on the other.  A new negotiation between sovereign negotiating partners will – after some initial jockeying for position, no doubt – get under way with the aim of arriving at a new and mutually beneficial arrangement.  It beggars belief that either party would permanently turn its back on valuable trading and other opportunities in a fit of pique.

    That negotiation will no doubt be difficult, drawn-out and detailed, as all the UK’s negotiations with our EU partners have been.  But self-interest on both sides, to say nothing of the underlying value placed by all sides on European cooperation, will certainly produce an outcome that all parties can accept and endorse.

    That outcome will of course differ in some important respects from the one we have become accustomed to over the last 40 years.  The British parliament will regain some of the powers of self-government that have been conceded to undemocratic and unaccountable European lawmakers.  Our ability to serve the interests of British industry, even at the cost of some damage to the supposedly sacrosanct principles of the unfettered free market, will increase. The trade balance, particularly in manufactures, might actually move in our favour instead of remaining stubbornly in deficit for every one of the last 34 years.  Our ability to negotiate in our own interest trade deals with powerful emerging economies – as even little New Zealand, for example, has been able to  do – would increase.

    We have, after all, been here before.  The same horrified voices now raised against Brexit urged us not to be “left behind” when we were pressed to join the euro zone.  Our failure to do so certainly meant that we were in many senses excluded from the EU inner circle, but who would now dispute that we got the better of that bargain?

    The truth is that the bien pensants who prefer grand visions and theories to practicalities have always been animated by a fundamental lack of confidence in the UK’s ability to function as a valuable partner and good friend to our continental neighbours while maintaining the powers of self-government, the policies and the trading links that best serve our interests.

    It is that same defeatism that now makes it impossible for them to contemplate a re-negotiation of our arrangement with the EU.  A Brexit would of course have costs as well as benefits – that is, after all, what a negotiation would be about – but a post-Brexit Britain would not be so inconsiderable that it could be tossed aside in anger by an EU that has its own severe difficulties and needs all the friends it can muster.

    And as for “turning our backs” on Europe, a re-negotiation would confirm, not weaken, the undeniable truth that we are historically, geographically, politically, culturally and in every other way a part of Europe.  It would allow us not only better to define our own role and contribution but also potentially to help set Europe itself on a more constructive course.  A Brexit could be a new beginning both for us and for Europe.

    Bryan Gould

    7 June 2016

     

2 Comments

  1. Doug Nicholls says: June 8, 2016 at 2:58 pmReply

    Good one Bryan

  2. Graham says: June 10, 2016 at 2:34 amReply

    You are, or course, right Bryan. It is terribly unfortunate that the Labour Party cannot realise (and this appears to have been the case for the last twenty five years or so) that it’s policy stance and general attitude towards the EU are counter-productive to it’s entire way of thinking and policy formulation.

    Only when it begins to consider that a productive economy working at full capacity (i.e. full employment) is a an unquestionably correct goal in it’s own right might it realise that the EU is not the answer, and that perhaps it will then have to come up with some policy prescriptions of it’s own.

    What this boils down to is a concept of political and (dare we say it as democratic socialists) economic agency. The Labour Party, whether in opposition or government, must once again be prepared to shoulder this responsibility and articulate the type of policies that demanded, and continue to demand, it’s very existence. To pass these most vital concerns to a supra national, not to say undemocratic and economically orthodox, institution as the EU is to encourage and invite the continuation of failed politico-economic thought and practice at the expense of a genuinely radical and practical left wing policy from a mainstream left-wing national party. A UK vote to leave the EU, one can only hope, will emboldened the Labour Party to rediscover the radicalism that is it’s true calling.

    The work of yourself, Douglas Jay, Peter Shore, and of course others, should act – and not merely upon the narrow issue (for that is what it is) of the EU – as a guide to the future.