Leaving the EU is the key to reforming
the governance of Britain

Downing_Street-Whitehall_-_geograph.org.uk_-_862190

“Europe’s power is easy to miss. Like an “invisible hand” it operates through the shell of traditional political structures. The British House of Commons, British law courts and British civil servants are still here, but they have become agents of the European Union, implementing European law. This is no accident. By creating common standards that are implemented through national institutions, Europe can take over countries without necessarily becoming a target for hostility” – Mark Leonard, Centre for European Reform, 2005

For the Remain campaign Brexit is all about risk and uncertainty and Britain regaining its independence is a potential crisis and likely a disaster. That is their vision for Britain.

Mine is of a reinvigorated country liberated from a political and judicial union that renders us sclerotic. Of a strong, dynamic and adaptable 21st century economy reaping the benefits of its newfound agility and flexibility in a modern globalised world. Of an open, liberal, democratic nation state leading in the world as a champion of free trade, liberty and democracy.

Instead of dependency on a domineering middleman, we can be a pioneer of the emerging global marketplace; speaking with an independent voice in the vast network of global bodies that are facilitating trade, raising standards and formulating global solutions for global problems. In that process our world class expertise, leadership and experience will be in high demand.

We will not crumble into disaster and failure without the supreme government in Brussels as the Remain campaigners would have it. There will be no isolationism, but global engagement and an expansion of ambition. This line of thought is spreading and, according to this interesting article in The Telegraph it is becoming a hot topic in Whitehall, where many officials see the prospect of leaving the European Union as a “liberating moment which would trigger a revolutionary shake-up of public policy.” Exactly!

“According to one analysis, developing a Britain-specific deal is likely to take five years, running way beyond the two-year period between a country triggering the Article 50 exit clause and it being released from the European treaties […] it is likely the UK would adopt a model similar to Norway’s as holding position, before gravitating to a more bespoke arrangement, according to one scenario under discussion.” 

If our own civil service says that Brexit will be a managed process implemented in stages, with the economy protected via the EEA Agreement, then we know the Government understands this. Clearly the Civil Service is not able to create a formal plan, because they would have to publish it and that would be harmful to the Government’s campaign to keep us in the EU. It would make the doomsday scenarios look ridiculous, and de-risk a leave vote by showing how a secure and orderly secession is eminently achievable.

In truth, the worst case scenario is startlingly unlikely, and the Government is not going to fulfil its own prophecies. It isn’t feasible for the UK, the EU, our global trading partners or transnational business. The business environment will be protected. HSBC have announced they will remain, Avon are relocating here, as is Beazley and Boeing, the London Stock Exchange and Deutsche Borse are considering merger and Foreign Direct Investment is still flooding into the UK. This is all regardless of the referendum; because the UK is a world-class business environment and will remain so.

It is time to stop wringing our hands over uncertainties and instead begin rubbing them together in hopeful anticipation.

Politics in Britain needs reinvigorating. The outsourcing of so much policy to a distant supreme government aggravates growing voter apathy and frustration. The 35% turnout at European elections is testament to the fact that the British people feel no connection to the government in Brussels, and are indifferent or contemptuous of the EU.

Apathy and frustration with our own politics is much to do with the increasing powerlessness of our councillors, MPs and Ministers. If they cannot respond to our needs, then we get frustrated, and increasingly hold them in contempt. Centralisation from our localities to London, and then from London to Brussels is severely exacerbating this frustration. Proper local and national democracy is the only way of resolving it.

People are beginning to believe that it doesn’t matter who they vote for because nothing changes. One major reason for that is because Whitehall works under constraints, and policy ideas inevitably come up against EU diktats because the Westminster Government is subordinate. This was a major driver for Michael Gove:

It is hard to overstate the degree to which the EU is a constraint on ministers’ ability to do the things they were elected to do, or to use their judgment about the right course of action for the people of this country […] Every single day, every single minister is told: ‘Yes Minister, I understand, but I’m afraid that’s against EU rules

It would be wrong to pretend that leaving the EU is a catch all solution. The governance of the UK would still be overly centralised in London and our Local Authorities would still be impotent and dysfunctional. Brexit doesn’t solve everything in one fell swoop, but it is the essential first step, we need to bring about serious reform of British governance.

A vote for Remain is a vote for a stagnant system that is causing serious disillusionment. A vote to leave is a vote for meaningful change.

“Mandarins are preparing for every corner of Whitehall to be uprooted in what is likely to be one of the most radical revisions of the British state since the Second World War”.

Brexit is a great opportunity. As we become “unstitched from 80,000 pages of European law” we will go through the statute books carefully and exploit the opportunities and benefits independence brings over time. Brexit is a long term vision for the future.

“In every area of public life and government life, I think people would want to go through with a fine-tooth comb and be asking the Civil Service: Now we are free to do what we want, what do you want to do with that freedom? […]  The ensuing flood of new legislation will dominate every Queen’s Speech for a decade”

A revolution in governance is what need. Politics is undergoing a process of mediocritisation. Important debates in the Commons are barely attended, while MPs spend hours pointlessly arguing over whether to ban Donald Trump from entering the UK and we are supposed to be impressed by the teenage politics of Jess Philips, reading out a list of women killed by men, which achieves nothing, she simply shouldn’t have time for something so unproductive.

Older voters grew up believing Parliament to be sovereign, and that elections determined the future of the country. In a democracy you elect your representatives directly and can remove them. Now we have transferred power to bureaucrats, judges and Commissioners in Brussels and Strasbourg, as well as quangos and civil servants in London. It is little wonder the young don’t turn out.

In 2004, after the London and European elections were marked by the usual rising apathy and resentment, the Electoral Commission carried out a study of the electorate’s attitude towards their politicians. Unsurprisingly the findings of the focus groups revealed that people felt utterly disconnected from their elected representatives:

The language used by respondents throughout the groups illustrates the extent to which people do not regard politicians as their representatives, the champions of their interests, but as a privileged and distant elite […] The catch-all use of ‘they’ is applied indiscriminately

It is extremely unhealthy – and the sign of a degraded and malfunctioning (non)democracy – that that voters speak of their representatives as if they were an occupying power. This is not entirely down to the EU, I don’t pretend it is, but ask yourself, is this situation improved or aggravated by the UK being subject to a supranational government? With an increasing amount of power and policy being ceded to Brussels, will it improve? This resentment is caused by British politicians gradually losing the ability to carry out their primary function; to bring about real change for their constituents.

Outsourcing government renders Parliament a vassal, and drains the purpose and dignity of our political system. The best and brightest will go where the action is and that is no longer British politics, hence we have a dearth of talent. When it came to reshuffles Tony Blair was said to despair at the lack of talent available, David Cameron is likely to feel the same. There are many honourable and capable people in the House, but not enough of them. The talent pool is not rich; the lack of quality MPs is a crisis of British politics.

We need a major change. Mediocre careerists are suitable for a provincial state ruled by a form of benign supranational managerialism, but not a proper national democracy. We want the British people to be empowered to elect and remove real decision makers, we want their elected representatives to be willing and able, which is never going to happen while they are disempowered. It will not happen if we vote to remain.

Even officials in Whitehall are beginning to the necessity of change, and the opportunity Brexit affords us.

“On June 24, we would be having a very lively debate about what do we want to use our new autonomy and sovereignty for, and in which areas”

They know Brexit will be revolutionary. They know it will be a huge undertaking, we will need an expansion of the Civil Service and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to drive the transition.  Already Whitehall is brimming with ideas, such as creating a “Ministry for Trade, staffed with hundreds of new negotiators, in order to conduct simultaneous deals with Japan, the United States and China”, a hint of the opportunities getting control of our trade policy will bring.

We have so much to gain. On June 24th we can either have an exciting and lively debate about what we are going to do with our newfound autonomy, about how we can change and rebuild Britain for the better and how we can use Brexit as a platform for major reform. Or, instead, we can spurn the opportunity and likely see growing disenchantment, further fragmentation and worsening toxicity in our politics.

We can vote for change or we can listen to the fear mongering, deceits and threats of unambitious politicians and the establishment who fear the uncertainty that democracy brings. The remain case rests on an acknowledgement that the EU is flawed but leaving is too risky. If they are so bereft of ideas and ambition, I think it’s time to shake them out of their lethargy and make serious demands of them.


Ben is the Conservatives for Liberty Web Editor.  He blogs at The Sceptic Isle. Follow him on Twitter: @TheScepticIsle

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The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty