Sunday, 22 May 2016

Interim reflections on the referendum campaign

Here are my interim reflections on the state of the referendum campaigns and their salient arguments. It is neither a strategic nor a tactical view of the European Union and the choice of the voter (that’ll be another post).

Status of the EurIn argument & campaign

The EurIn campaign of 2016 has actively chosen not to make the case in favour of a fully-integrated federal Europe.  This is also consistent with the facts of previous campaigns/debates 1971, 1974, 1986 and 1992.

Having justified the referendum by means of an election manifesto promise in 2014/2015, Cameron negotiated a very weak deal to which all 27 other European Union national governments agreed.  Since announcing it on 19Feb2016, it has completely disappeared from the public debate.

The EurIn campaign seem to think that UKGov’s mid-air position is tenable.  The mid-air position is a long-standing one, broadly codified by Cameron’s deal of 19Feb2016.  The mid-air position is one of not-quite-in, not-quite-out, somewhere-in-between, focussed only on trade, everything else (including consequences) apparently irrelevant.

The EurIn campaign has chosen not to state how the Cameron deal of 19Feb2016 is supportable by the European Parliament and therefore enforceable by the European Commission.  The EurIn campaign has chosen to remain silent about the risk to the deal - and therefore British interests - if the European Parliament chooses to reject the deal.  Worse, Project Fear wrongly portrays a vote for EurIn as “business as usual”, when, in fact, it fundamentally undermines the tenability of UKGov’s mid-air position, increasing UK’s exposure to being dragged into the Eurozone and a federal Europe, contrary to UKGov’s stated objectives.

As part of carefully avoiding any debate about the tenability of the Cameron deal of 19Feb216, the EurIn campaign has studiously avoided the comparable question of whether UK would seek to join the European Union on its current membership terms (as offered Eastern European countries Estonia, Poland, Hungary, etc) and current half-hearted applicant Turkey.

The EurIn campaign of 2016 - like its predecessor in 1974 - has presented only Project Fear, forecasting a whole series of economic catastrophic doom - to the point that the UK’s own Chancellor and his ‘independent’ pet a.k.a. The Bank of England are prepared to perform publicly a scorched-earth policy -  that just won’t happen if UK votes Brexit.  Any fool can rig a spreadsheet to say that the economy will tank if something totally nonsense is going to happen.  To take exports as a key example, there is no evidence to demonstrate that withdrawal of UKGov from the European Union shall result in any change in trading patterns, not even if there is a short-term (<48 hours) shock to exchange rates.  Project Fear is economically illiterate in this respect.  In an era where central banks engage in a currency war to depreciate their fiat currencies to favour exports, to claim that Brexit would tank the currency thus tank the economy is just a blatant lie… Were we to believe it, we would need to consider whether our central bank is treacherous.

Aside from anything else, to fulfil the economic doom as forecasted by Project Fear would require Cambo, OsBo and Carno respectively to negotiate deliberately for losses as part invoking Article 50.  That would be treachery in public office, and harming their own respective private business/family interests to boot, thus nonsense.  Therefore, none of EurIn campaign’s rambling about economics is credible.  All of it can be ignored.

By deploying Project Fear, the EurIn campaign has deliberately chosen to avoid the technical aspects of the debate, instead playing on raw emotions of those with relatively weak (or zero) understanding of what distinguishes European Union from Single Market, from NATO, from foreign policy and so on.  Project Fear deliberately misleads the electorate into thinking that the European Union is one single blob.  In fact, the European Union is merely a broker, a middleman, between functions within Europe (mainly inter-governmental treaties) and beyond Europe (more inter-governmental treaties).

Project Fear implies more than just deceit of the voters.  It also implies a “cynical herdsman” approach to democracy.  The current president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junckers personifies this view of the plebs who, without informed consent, pay the salaries of the self-serving publicly-funded governmental elites (“If it's a Yes, we will say 'on we go', and if it's a No we will say 'we continue’.”).  It is a disgusting attitude, but one which won’t go away.  And the peddlers of Project Fear carry on regardless, because they know it will work for weak-minded voters, whom they hope represent the majority of the electorate.

The EurIn campaign has made no attempt to paint a picture of the world, and a federal European Union’s role within it, in 10 years time, in 20 years time and 50 years time.

The EurIn campaign has chosen to remain silent about the international regulation that more-or-less regulates the European Union.

Therefore, the EurIn argument is substantially vacuous.  There is nothing in the EurIn argument to vote for.

Status of the Brexit argument & campaign

The case in favour of an independent Britain is plenty debated, but the lack of credible story makes the case still wide open.  For Brexiteers, their debate must conclude quickly and soundly.

The Brexit campaign has one major advantage over the EurIn campaign.  The Brexit campaign has a Flexcit plan.

The Flexcit Plan is a great plan, but it suffers one major flaw.  It needs a competent UKGov to implement.  In all of my years of studying policy choices, I see no consistent evidence that any part of UK public sector is capable of competent, joined-up thinking.  As if the exit negotiations and the replacement trade negotiations were insufficient, Flexcit’s phase six (domestic reform, ensuring that the 1971 accession cannot happen in the same way again) is vulnerable to all sorts of incompetence and corruption.  UKGov is likely to be dominated by a fairly cynical two-party system for the foreseeable future.

The Brexit campaign overall is confused about many things that might be possible were UKGov independent of the European Union.  Undoubtedly, these might all be possible, but the issue for voters is twofold:
  • a) whether these things are probable (the mere possibility isn’t sound enough); and
  • b) whether the accomplishment of these things amounts to any material beneficial change to UK taxpayers.

On both accounts, the Brexit campaign has largely failed to make the case in favour of Brexit.  As a result, the campaign amounts to Project Fantasy.  These untested elements of Brexit’s campaign are incredible, and can be ignored.

Specifically, the Brexit campaign has sought to conflate inward immigration with the European Union, ignoring the usefulness of largely unlimited immigration to both i) the Single Market; and ii) Britain’s own demographic time-bomb, embedded deeply from within its own Ponzi-scam welfare state.  This matters, because emotional confusion and general hostility against immigration of any variety is the root cause of support for this wing of the Brexit campaign.  The issue of immigration also demonstrates that Project Fantasy also deploys the “cynical herdsman” attitude, except that it has explicit support from some voters.  The root cause of the public’s resentment of immigration is a perception that the welfare state gives taxpayers’ money to immigrants freely and without qualification.  This perception is probably valid; I refer again to the lack of joined-up government in the UK.

Sovereignty is another area where Brexit campaigners present a story as if it were black-and-white, but in fact the issue is actually a moribund blend of multi-coloured grey.  The ability to hold public sector officers responsible for the consequences of their decisions is worthy, as is a decision-making body to be physically representative of its demos.  But there’s a problem.  No modern Western democracy achieves these two objectives.  Worse, voter turnout in the UK is on a long-term trend of decline (apathy).  There’s no evidence that the Brexit campaign will change democracy in the UK.  Moreover, there’s even less evidence that, were the UK to change the nature of representative democracy, international regulation would be any more influenced by the British demos than it is now.

However, security is one policy area where Brexit campaigners have largely won credibility on the issue, if not the full argument.  Security policy is substantially outside the scope of the European Union. Under no circumstances would America share sensitive military intelligence with most members of the European Union.  Yet, there is evidence that a proposals for a Single European Army are being warmed up, waiting for the Americans to tire of funding NATO, feeling that Europe is free-riding off American taxpayers.  Unfortunately, the Brexiteers have yet to spell out what the Single European Army means for European citizens, British taxpayers in particular.  Whether in or out of the European Union, it is unlikely that UKGov would have much influence in the Franco-German preferences for a Single European Army.  The implications are stark… and there’s over 1,000 years of history to serve as a template.  Unlike stocks and shares, past performance is generally a very good indicator of future human behaviour.

Economic policy - trade in particular - is one policy area where Brexiteers don’t need to argue with EurIneers, because a half-decent Brexiteer will be an internationalist (and not an isolationist).  EurIneers hide a major implication of their argument, which is that they choose to put most (if not all) of their trading eggs in one basket (the European Union).  Internationalist Brexiteers have failed to point this out, but instead tacitly admitted that negotiating trade deals outside of the European Union will be a struggle.

Ultimately, such debate about trade is irrelevant anyway.  Trade will continue with or without the European Union, with or without trade deals.  Volumes and profits might fluctuate over a 5 year period post-Brexit relative to post-EurIn, assuming that a EurIned UKGov successfully stays out of the Eurozone.  On the other hand, if a EurIned UKGov cannot resist the legal obligation to join the Eurozone, then debate about trade is fundamental to this referendum, and the Brexit campaign has failed to vocalise the secondary and tertiary consequences of EurIn into the mass media.

To demonstrate why the trade issue is irrelevant post-Brexit, a trade deal may be preferable to no trade deal, but by their nature, a trade deal is only hard to negotiate where one trading partner is loathe to remove its technical barriers to trade.  Would the European Union have an advantage in such negotiations?  Theoretically, yes.  But in reality, the European Union is effectively abandoning TTIP for the sake of protecting particular vested interests (French agriculture, in particular).  The European Union has concluded that no trade is better than managed trade: rational or irrational?  So, for a UKGov, a focus beyond the European Union is fundamental for the medium-term,  whether Brexited in EurIned.

Therefore, the Brexit arguments are still largely half-baked.  Although there is one credible plan, the environment it needs is hopelessly idealistic.  That said, Flexcit is head-and-shoulders better than anything EurIn has mustered since the 1960s.  At the same time, there is an awful lot of nonsense from Project Fantasy that needs to be ignored.  There is insufficient basis to vote confidently for Brexit: the Brexit case is work-in-progress, and time is running out.

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