Article 38

Why Did We Not Leave The EU Long Since?

With four and a half years having elapsed since the referendum-vote to leave the EU, our parliamentary representatives continued to discuss the terms on which we would actually leave, (c.f. date below). At this point, I ask why did none of them nor any media commentator ever ask for a specification of what is being discussed, why it was being discussed, and to what specific ends?  As I have said before in this website, even those parliamentarians who describe themselves as leavers justify themselves by referring to the referendum result without openly endorsing it by citing the failings of the EU, while those who wish to remain within the EU openly campaigned for a second referendum to overturn first. Indeed, even after a general election returned a majority government ostensibly on the leaver side, it continued to negotiate the terms under which we would leave, while true leavers expected us to have left, long ago  under WTO terms. I ask, why does no-one explain this extension of negotiation?

My explanation is that under the influence of Mrs May as prime minister, the majority of conservative MPs wished to remain in the EU, while EU itself was naturally opposed to letting us leave; that accordingly, the EU would only agree to us leaving under terms and conditions which would be as close to remaining as possible; and that if this were achieved under Mrs May, and under the prevailing sentiments of the various parties in the House, there was a fair possibility of a withdrawal of the wish to leave by retracting our formal notification of intention to do so; that after Boris Johnson’s election victory the EU must have judged the possibility of remaining to have been reduced, though even he was willing to resume negotiation of the terms for leaving; that consequently he was not for leaving on WTO terms; and that the EU thus saw an opportunity of achieving terms and conditions of leaving which would be as close to remaining as to make no difference, and even to open the possibility of our actual remaining. This explanation is thus consistent with the notion that whatever aims Boris Johnson had in mind, the EU firmly intended to make leaving as close to remaining as possible.

Thus, with talks being extended yet again, Nick Timothy, whom I took to be a leaver, revealed himself as one who wants to minimise the (negative) effects of leaving rather than as one wanting to maximise the positive effects thereof, and as such is effectively a remainer, as he revealed in a Daily Telegraph  article of 14/12/20, entitled ‘A deal is likely, but Britain and the EU must learn to trust again’ and subtitled ‘Whether the British are slow learners or the EU moved the goal posts, the rancour has got to end now’. Thus, he states that ‘despite the Prime Minister talking up “no deal”, a possible landing zone is beginning to emerge’; that ‘Britain should be free to diverge from the EU’; but that ‘if the divergence causes demonstrable harm to its member states, the EU would have the right to take response action on the UK’.  But, I say that this is an unacceptable landing zone for a leaver, unless the referenced-response is to be taken by the EU on itself, and not on a sovereign UK; and that it would be inappropriate in any separation agreement under which both the UK and the EU were to proceed as separate sovereignties. However, Nick Timothy claims that ‘the benefit to the UK of such an agreed freedom of action by the EU on the UK would enable the EU to back down on its the so-called ratchet clauses which are currently intended to force Britain to match all EU regulations now and in future, whenever and wherever these UK initiated changes were deemed by the EU to hurt its economy’; and that ‘this would be a good result for our Prime Minister’. But I say, it would be bad for him by not being Brexit.

Again, despite this “remainer” concession, Nick Timothy goes on to say ‘with apologies to those exhausted by the past four years’ that ‘it will not mark the end of the story, for uncertainty will be baked into the new relationship’; that this should not be a surprise’; that ‘agreements last as long as the contracting parties want them’; that ‘even with established trading frameworks, such as the agreement between the EU and Switzerland, disputes with one side threatening retaliation against the other for apparent transgressions’; that ‘this is why the detail of any agreement – principles setting out the circumstances in which retaliation may occur, the process, proportionality, parity between the two sides, the independence of any arbitration and enforcement mechanisms and so on – are vital’; but that ‘this is also true of trust, and of a recognition that despite Britain choosing to leave the laws and institutions of the European Union, we should remain friends and allies sharing history, values and interests’; that ‘the process of negotiating in an adversarial situation with no shortage of emotion on both sides, has undermined this sense of friendship, but it will need to be restored’; and that ‘even if we end up with a deal, it will take time and effort to put the pieces back together’. But, I say all of the foregoing is beside the point, given that we have a national majority for leaving the institutions of the EU and for trading with it as an independent sovereign state on WTO terms.   

The remainder of Nick Timothy’s article offers reasons for the mistrust which he alleges the EU has of  the intentions and actions of the UK, while for balance he also offers reasons for the intentions and actions of the EU, in the belief/counter-belief manner of all past and current media commentators. However, I say that the preceding four and a half years is understandable only on our knowledge that the UK wants to leave on the votes of a referendum and of the last general election and to continue to trade with the EU on WTO terms or on terms such as we could agree with any other sovereign state; on our knowledge that the EU does not want us to leave at all;  and on the knowledge that if we do leave it will not be on terms which enable the EU to control our internal management as closely as possible to that which EU membership currently enables them to do, and which would enable them to do in future as the EU itself develops its future control of members beyond their trading relationships and into their internal managements in the way that sovereign democratic states do now, on this or that internally elective belief-consensus.

When EU membership was first mooted, my attitude was, if we cannot improve our own internal management as an independent state, we would be even less able to do so when subordinated as a single member of a United Europe. Again, when my then MP revealed himself to be a leaver, I wrote to him suggesting that when we left we should base our policies on knowledge rather than on this or that belief-consensus, otherwise we would come out as we went in, and continue as ineffectually as before we went in and as we did while we were in. He responded with a copy of a paper he had recently presented to All Souls which argued that leaving the EU on WTO terms would be a dawdle, but he did not respond to my proposal to use my newly definitive knowledge/belief differentiation to ensure that available knowledge would replace belief in future policy-making by a newly independent UK, freedom of speech being of little or no value, if all that is thus debated is belief/counter-belief supported by partially selected facts/counter-facts, evidence/counter-evidence and news/false-news, no set of which is ever debate-terminating conclusive knowledge, instead of debating the relative benefits of knowledge-only alternative policies either of which will work in reality if implemented, while recognising that belief-only alternatives never work in reality whichever is implemented.                          17/12/20.   

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