Author and freelance writer. Sometimes in London more often elsewhere




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Brexit: Why it will work

By James Maclaren, Aug 27 2016 08:21PM

The beauty of waiting to comment on a major political and social event like Brexit is that there is more to say once events have unfolded slightly. If the mist shrouding the unknown has not gone away, there are gaps emerging through which we can glimpse how events may unfold. Two months have passed from the vote, which surprised both the Conservative leadership who believed the modest and vaguely insulting ‘renegotiation of Britain’s membership’ would quell dissent with the federalist direction of Brussels and the EU itself, which thought that Britain would not dare. The debate has changed from ‘whether we would leave’ to how ‘we will leave’.

That’s not to say that the Remain camp has given up the charge. Far from it: the political and legal ripples will continue for some time to come. Theresa May’s preferred position is to trigger Article 50 as soon as her government is in a position to conduct negotiations and she intends to do so without the involvement of Parliament. A legal challenge to this based upon the sovereignty of Parliament is almost inevitable. So be it. Whether she has her way or not, it seems unlikely that MPs will ultimately defy a decisive vote organised with constitutional correctness – not if they want to be elected again and we can trust political self-interest on that point. British referendums are not Irish or Dutch events which are treated with respect only when they offer the correct decision and to attempt wriggle out of it would risk a political upheaval too grave to contemplate. Article 50 will be triggered and the 1972 European Union Act will be repealed.

To many the journey post-referendum has got off to a slow start. They will lament Cameron’s decision not to make good on his promise to trigger Article 50 immediately. That he did not reflects the failure of his Administration to conduct any contingency planning for a ‘leave’ vote. Separation from the EU would always be the subject of negotiation – and could not be pre-ordained in the way that many Brexit opponents suggest. If both the Government and the EU had taken the possibility of leave more seriously, perhaps an outline of the new environment might have been visualised – more fool them. The need now to take some time to organise affairs around a departure strategy is not the fault of the Leave campaign – policy and plans can only be undertaken by government. The referendum decision determined the new strategic relationship according to the will of the British people; it is for the Government of the day to organise the detail of affairs in accordance with.

This includes the negotiation any future commercial relationships with the EU and its member states. It is important to remember the member states. The focus has been on the EU as if this organisation is sovereign. It is not, although clearly a number of its bureaucrats believe it should be. Behind the bruised egos of an EU elite the member states realise that that their own economies continue to need a strong relationship with the UK. Slowly but surely their pragmatic self-interest will influence the EU Brexit direction. The UK understands that it requires a steady flow of migrant labour from both the skilled and unskilled EU labour pools. The negotiation that will take place will be about calibrating access to EU markets at the best conditions possible without having to accept freedom of movement, replacing it with a controlled system of immigration – probably and quite properly on favourable terms.

The UK remains an economic power capable of prosperous and independent global trade, it seems difficult to understand why anyone doubts that – after all the economy is bigger than those of Australia, Canada, South Africa, South Korea and is not so far behind Japan, None of these nations feel the need to belong to protectionist political unions to operate prosperous economies. Free of the collective negotiation quagmire that accompanies decision making in a 27 state union, bilateral trade deals with other countries will be relatively simple. These deals, over time, will more than compensate for the upheaval of negotiating an economic relationship with the EU.

But most importantly the political and legal relationship has changed. Whatever the terms of access to the single market is finally decided, it will be an economic arrangement and not part of a political federal union, which lurches from crisis to crisis and seems set for increasing division and continued decline. That separation of powers was at the heart of the decision to leave the EU.

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