Friday, 27 October 2017
I'll always be committed to Brexit
I don't like the concept or functioning of the European Union. I believe it is a duplicitous and anti-democratic organisation and I don't think Britain should play any direct part in it. I consider ever closer union to be merely a mechanism for creating a democratic deficit across governance, which sees us export technical expertise and policy competence abroad, harden intellectual atrophy in Whitehall like rigor mortis and waiver important decision making (which far transcends trade) at global level. As such I see no real political need to be in the EU and I look forward, admittedly with some apprehension, to our departure, however botched and messy it turns out to be.
The foundations of euroscepticism were built on the premise that the United Kingdom ought to be a self-governing democracy, even if globalisation of regulation and the establishment of an immensely influential regulatory power on the continent serve to reinforce just how nebulous the concept of sovereignty actually is. A lot of sovereignty can be recaptured by Brexit, it is true. A lot of it can't. Brexit itself can open the door for domestic reconstruction of trade policy, agricultural policy, immigration policy, fisheries and legislation covering many facets of public life, like consumer and employment legislation. But it's not always quite so simple.
Some pockets of sovereignty were not hijacked by Brussels. Some have been globalised and transported to international forums. Standard setting is a global initiative, as enshrined (for instance) by Article 2.4 of the General Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. Take a read and you'll begin to see why Shanker Singham of the Legatum Institute is wrong to suggest that on Brexit Day, Britain will regain full control of its regulatory fixes. It tells us that when technical standards are introduced internationally, members of those international organisations 'shall' adopt them.
This is an area where the concept of sovereignty shakes a little, and approaching issues like this with a dose of realism will, I think, aid discourse. It is sensible to recognise that with sovereignty comes trade-offs. This does not render the sovereignty argument bogus, not by any stretch. It just means that Brexiteers will need to take a little perspective when this is all said and done and they are analysing successes and the state of British sovereignty.
That I need to reaffirm my support for Brexit speaks mostly to personal events which have unfolded over the summer and autumn, after I converted to a softer position and burned a number of bridges in the process. It hasn't been a smooth period personally. Sure, my public profile has grown and I managed to get a nice little tick on Twitter, but it's not all fantastic. Publicity is overrated and if I can warn anybody against pursuing it, it would be those who have (as I do) difficulty with anxiety. I don't like people talking about me and I don't deal well with online abuse. It's largely a question of having a thick skin, something I don't have as of yet and wish I could develop over night.
It is for this reason that I do not want to be a mainstay in the public arena. Occasionally dipping into it, as I do, is more than satisfactory. I do not want to be the kind of person who has an opinion on everything. I would like to balance a sense of specialism with a measure of privacy, ensuring that I can promote work and be a constructive influence on whichever facet of public policy I am trying to make my mark on. I like the enclave of independence I have carved for myself and hopefully, as I become better educated and smarter, I can build on it. The blogosphere is for now an ideal platform for me because it reflects the values I place a lot of importance on: self-discovery, intellectual honesty and growth, independent thought, holding power to account and the democratisation of information.
Losing friends, or people I thought were friends, is also not very nice. Quite a number of hard Leavers have turned on me and now treat me as some kind of pariah. Such people range from ex-colleagues to activists I got to know during the referendum campaign. I am referring to a stream of complaints about me, which I have encountered right across social media and in person. They usually follow along the lines of: 'you're an attention seeker', 'you've converted to Remain for the publicity' or 'you've made a name for yourself out of working for Vote Leave'. I wanted to address these criticisms because I think they are each unfair.
If it was attention I most sought this year, I would have attacked Vote Leave and spent my time rubbishing our campaign claims. Imagine the can of worms that would have opened up. Doing so would have made for quite the Twitter thread. Instead, I changed my mind on the type of Brexit I thought the country should opt for. I did this with sincerity and based the conversion on available evidence and thorough research. There is, after all, no plan for a hard Brexit (though if that is our only option I will do nothing to stop it) and I could not, if I maintained that intellectual honesty was important, continue to support it. I had to follow what I thought was sensible and pragmatic, even at the risk of souring relations with other people.
Then came the intense accusations of undermining the Leave campaign. These were references to articles I wrote in the New Statesman (which was originally a republished blog post) and Guardian. The former explained that I did not think we campaigned explicity to leave the Single Market, and instead took a deliberately ambiguous approach. The latter explained why I had changed my mind on the use of the Single Market and why I think we are better off staying in it as we complete our withdrawal. My view here is simple: Vote Leave didn't advocate a specific kind of Brexit, so I was always quite within my rights to advocate the Norway option. I did work for Vote Leave, but I have never claimed to be Mr Big Shot, who ran the campaign. I also haven't had anything disparaging to say about anybody in it. In fact, the really silly abuse has been aimed directly at me (concentrated mostly on my private Facebook).
As for individuals who think I am now a Remainer, I'm afraid I stand here only to disappoint. If I search my name on Twitter, which I try not to do anymore, inevitably I find Remain-supporting users tweeting links to my blog and claiming that I now support remaining in the European Union. This is not so and they are drastically misrepresenting my work and opinions. If you believe this is so, the likelihood is that you are not reading my work, you do not know me very well and are placing ideological barriers in front of important facts. The facts, after all, are all that matter.
It is a fact that I support Brexit. It is also a fact that Brexit is an immensely complicated undertaking. These statements do not contradict one another in any way that I can see and only the most foolhardy ideologues refuse to acknowledge this. For some on the Leave side, to admit to complexity, or indeed to expose it, is unacceptable. These are the people we should be most worried about, and I fear some such individuals could have significant lobbying power in Westminster.
Don't be fooled by my pessimism or critiques of a no deal. It is far more a sign that I respect my own intellectual integrity than ever it is a display of support for EU membership. I will never abandon the Brexit position, and if push comes to shove and our EU departure is threatened, I will be right there on the firing line, marching and protesting with my fellow Leavers. This is important to me.