Going with the Flow

brexit-beckons-as-97-of-britons-think-david-cameron-cant-get-a-better-eu-dealKeeping it all moving in the event of BREXIT

The questions you ask determine the answers you get.  So, it would be for a BREXIT.

Let us suggest what matters to an archipelago on the extreme western edge of a customs union becoming a state?

It really is all about movement – of people, goods and intangibles: we live in an age when virtual movement can be just as important as the real thing.

What this means in practice is that the most important task in any negotiation is good flow management.

Moreover, in the context, being an island (more accurately an archipelago) is what matters.

For say, France, German and the Benelux countries, or Hungary and all its ring of neighbours – though this actually applies across the European board – the precise geographical boundaries are accidents of history, the results of clauses in a treaty, a battle lost or won, a royal marriage which produced an heir – or failed to!  Land boundaries, especially those not related to high mountains are inevitably porous, the longer the boundary the greater the osmosis.  Or you erect a Berlin Wall – with massive, unpleasant side effects – as Angela Merkel is, ironically, just learning. 

That is why the Channel (and the North Sea and the Atlantic approaches) are so important.  Mary Stuart may have had Calais engraved on her heart as she died but, once it was lost in 1558 and the British decided to relinquish all Continental territories in perpetuity, the entire game had changed from a UK perspective.

Yes, we can anticipate the Oxbridge point-scoring question: what about the connection with Hanover, and Heligoland, Gibraltar, Minorca, Malta, the Ionian islands, Cyprus…?  Important, yes but only for religious schism and naval power projection, not geopolitical fundamentals!

These seas allow us to annunciate a principle – one all but impossible in the lands of land boundaries: what we do on our islands is up to us!

Winds blow, of course, and the sea flows but then the UK and UKIP are strong exponents of internationalism when it comes to UNCLOS (the law of the sea) and international environmental agreements (provided they are balanced in their global uptake and effects) – and for these, just a part of Europe, the EU is too small!

So, the real questions to be answered are ALL practical ones – about people and goods going through Heathrow and Hull, or flowing between Dover and Calais, Harwich and Zeebrugge.  Or what happens to the internet traffic between the City of London or St Andrews University and Frankfurt or Delft University.

The latter should be subject to evolving international agreement because it is by definition virtual and global.  EU boundaries with or without the UK are an irrelevance in practice if not in theory.  In that context, the EU is an old-fashioned customs union which can only ‘get-in-the way’ with outmoded thinking.

And that could and would be our approach to all virtual aspects of negotiation, including capital movements, foreign exchange and financial markets.  (In this context, the German desire to own the London Stock Exchange speaks volumes about their view of BREXIT – and we wish them well in their bid!)

That leaves people and goods.

Ahh, you will say, what about services?  The reality is that the EU has dismally failed in its attempts to create a free market in services – and as these are increasingly global or pan-regional they should again be pursued either bi-laterally eg with the US or via global fora such as the World Trade Organisation, (the EU and Europe are NOT synonyms despite the best efforts of the Remainers!)  Remember: leave the EU and we can, again, resume our WTO seat, currently empty because of EU membership and their claim to monopoly representation in trade negotiations for all member states.

Back to ‘goods’: ‘let ’em flow’ is what we suggest.  This is not facetiousness.   In the end, this is about planes landing or lorries moving.  The instructions we would give to the Border Agency are straight-forward: facilitate flows without being difficult but ensure that nothing gets in we do not want.  This means a watchful eye, spot checks, using intelligence (in both senses of the word) and not being hidebound by ridiculous rules meaning that in order to stop a car of bearded young men you have to stop a car of grannies.  Sorry, quotas and political correctness do have to go – and ‘good riddance’, we say.

Moreover, we would introduce a Swiss-style visible vehicle vignette system – for all vehicles, trucks, vans, cars and motorbikes – which would: ensure every vehicle is checked at least once a year; raise some useful revenue from people who use our road system without paying; facilitate the police as well as the Border Agency in doing their job.  As an island, we are perfectly placed to operate such a system.  If the Swiss can do it so can we.

Moreover, we are not dogmatic.  If the practical application of their approach needs tweaking for our circumstances, then tweak it we will – as substantially as is needed.  (All negotiations should be based on models and parameters but ‘sui generis’, ie modified for the particular case, anyway!)

Even better, the people with whom we have to reach agreement on how this works are ONLY the authorities in the member state which provides the other end of the link: a German, Lithuanian or Romanian truck can only get to Calais or the Hook of Holland through France or the Netherlands.  Therefore, for the UK, what matters is bilateral agreement with ‘their people’ – and how it works in practice.

All else is unimportant in the real world!

So the final question: what happens if they refuse to cooperate, the French or the Dutch or whoever?

This is where the ‘Remainers’ thinking is unbelievably muddled and incoherent.

It is EASIER to reach agreement between just two parties than to manage the diverse and competing interests of 27, 28, 29 or more nations.  The bigger and more numerous the interests, the more difficult it is to balance them.  This is why tiny Iceland has a trade agreement with China when the EU does not.

We will be VERY practically accommodating in discussions with Calais port whilst leaving to them the issue of who gets to their port and how!

And, if things do get difficult, we will retaliate intelligently, not an eye for an eye or lamb carcase for lamb carcase but rather applying the well-established principle of equivalence – one recognised and understood in international trade.

(If we already had it and were not in the EU, we might still have a chance of having a viable steel industry.)

Actually it will almost certainly be unnecessary: do the Germans really want to give up a £25,759million trade surplus with the UK (2013) and lose our custom for all those Audis, Mercedes and BMWs?  We think not BUT, if push really does come to shove, we think British people will not mind too much, quaffing Australian sparkling wine in place of Cava or Champagne, or not be greatly upset that the lamb comes from New Zealand or the oranges from Israel not Seville.

We are absolutely certain that South Australian wine-makers or New Zealand sheep-farmers will be delighted to supply us, probably at better prices, notwithstanding either the distance involved or what their current political leaders may say – for tendentious reasons and at Cameron’s prompting – about our EU membership.

Our approach is practical and utilitarian – that great English branch of political philosophy, originating with Bentham, Ricardo and the Mills – father, James, and son, John Stuart.  From that perspective, too much of what passes for informed debate is Kantian cant, less important than supposed in the real world we all actually inhabit.         

Ray Finch MEP, Tony Brown EFDD, Roger Bird

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