The Brexit White Paper- Big Holes in All the Wrong Places…

I have now had a chance to read the Brexit White paper. I’ve read hundreds of these things in my time (not healthy I know!) and this one appears to me nowhere near as bad as the press reports would have led me to believe in terms of its general structure or presentation. More clarity does indeed emerge and some objectives can be gleaned amid the bland generality and optimistic objectives.

Unfortunately the paper suffers from four major weaknesses:

– The tendency to suggest that because there is a mutual interest in succeeding between the UK and the EU, say for example on passporting of financial services, that there is therefore an identical mutual interest. In fact it’s clearly far more important to the UK than the EU on sheer weight of interest and numbers. This tendency to elide common interest into identical interest is a major weakness. Ironically, this flippant blindness is very similar to the SNP/Scottish independence campaign’s approach to UK relations post-separation.
– Environmental protection- this is an obvious common and pan-European need to manage effectively- from transboundary air pollution to illegal waste shipments, from common carbon emissions trading schemes to marine planning. However the environment is barely mentioned- an astonishing absence considering that for example, workers’ rights get a chapter to itself, that future food, farming and marine policy will be up for grabs in the largest change in 50 years, that the bulk of UK environment law (80%+) is founded on EU law, and that environment is most at risk from the aggressive free trade open economy ideas that the government has floated.
– Devolved nations and the future of the constitution- the paper is very weak indeed and provides neither answers nor ideas for the future relationship suggested between the various parts of the UK, clearly risking the future of the union with its insouciance and arrogance (and with signs that this is moving the poll numbers back towards Scots independence).
– Missing the bigger picture- Ok! We can possibly agree that the EU can be annoying; that the CAP is a nonsense; that the Greeks have been screwed by the Commission, the ECB and a German-led ordo-liberal model; that the loss of control of immigration is not an unreasonable thing to argue over. Yes, on reflection it’s clear that the elites were too arrogant or afraid to seek the people’s consent for the major changes 1986-2010.

But overall the elites were surely right in what they sought to achieve- for the real purpose of the EU isn’t economic any more. It is to bring us together in ways that deliver mutual common interest, that prevent war, that give Europe a voice in an increasingly Eastern-facing world, and which grow the common bonds of mutual respect, cultural ties and the ways of peace.

On that measure, the white paper is an enormous failure…

* Dave Gorman is a member of the Scottish party and blogs at liberalismfive.co.uk

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16 Comments

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Feb '17 - 12:13pm

    I was nodding my head until I got to this bit:

    ‘Yes, on reflection it’s clear that the elites were too arrogant or afraid to seek the people’s consent for the major changes 1986-2010.’

    That’s not a little hole. That is actually quite a big deal indeed – perhaps the heart of the matter. Probably for people around the EU, not just in the UK – think about the rejection of the EU constitution. One of the stronger arguments for LEAVE was indeed that what we’ve ended up with is not at all what we had in the 1970s and the open-ended nature of the EU is problematic. Indeed I travel to Eastern Europe quite a bit and one argument I hear about migrant/asylum quotas is that it’s not what they feel they signed up for.

    However I don’t think that it follows that you can say, ‘But overall the elites were surely right in what they sought to achieve.’ If you can’t or won’t achieve it at the ballot box then there’s a problem. Ends justify means is a dangerous path to go down. Put simply elites have signed away in perpetuity powers that were not theirs to give away. If you want a political project that’s a reasonable thing, but surely it needs a sounder constitutional footing when you are in practice binding your successors.

    I don’t know what the answer is. But if the answer to the problems you identify are not in the white paper I’m not sure I’m hearing much from REMAINers in the UK about the very real concerns that were exposed in the referendum.

  • the white paper is an enormous failure…

    But did we really expect it to be anything other than disappointing?
    The problem we’ve now got is that Parliament has no leverage over the government as it has already given May the okay to invoke Article 50, so Parliament’s ability, as well as the British public’s ability to influence the style of Brexit is now distinctly limited. What is clear that a vote against the Article 50 bill wasn’t a vote against the wishes of the British public, but it is clear the Brexiteers didn’t have the ability to understand that…

  • For me the EU was never just about the economy as I have posted on other threads. Even when I voted to join the ‘ Common Market’ I valued the things which Dave mentions in his last paragraph. I just wish that Remain had put more emphasis on this. It might have reminded people of my age (67 tomorrow) why we have lived in peace for our entire lifetime unlike our parents and grandparents. Why did we not wish that for our children and grandchildren too?

  • Bitterly Disappointed: That the EU did not respond to David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech and subsequent negotiations.
    Bitterly Disappointed: In the EU’s attitude to peripheral nations. (Greece in particular)
    Bitterly Disappointed: in a Remain and Leave campaigns based on lies and half truths.
    Bitterly Disappointed: In a referendum result of less than 52% v more than 48%, and a result based on 37% of eligible vote.
    Bitterly Disappointed: In any form of reaching out from the EU.
    Bitterly Disappointed: In a negotiating strategy predicated on mutual hostility.
    Bitterly Disappointed: In the lack of backbone from our elected MP’s.
    Still, hope springs eternal.
    Happy birthday for tomorrow Kay.

  • It must be really agonising to be a unionist coming to finally realise their love for Westminster is unreciprocated, that voters in England voted Leave and the Westminster government went for hard Brexit in full knowledge that it was likely to end the UK.

  • Little Jackie: exactly right; power after power was ceded to the European Institutions without the British people having their say. We connived in this, along with the other Party’s elites. And now we are going to lose the whole European edifice because we and others thought we shouldn’t seek consent from the people at any stage, because we though we knew what the answer would be. Karma is going to bite us very hard and it is our fault as much as anyone else’s. In arguing for a second referendum, should we not at least be setting out what democratic checks and balances we would like to see in the reformed Europe that we would like people to vote to stay in?

  • nigel hunter 10th Feb '17 - 2:10pm

    I am 68 and I can agree with you. We entered the Common Market for economic reasons. As an add on it has kept the peace, something that Churchill probably hoped it would.Chamberlain was reluctant to go to war for he remembered the death count of WW1. Churchill lived through that and led us in WW2, He knew warring countries destroy ,therefore if all have a common interest, they can work together, are stronger together..

    PS Happy birthday 🙂

  • Laurence Cox 10th Feb '17 - 3:03pm

    @ljp

    I can quite understand your arguments, but we should not forget that as well as UKIP, the Lib Dems were advocating an ‘in or out’ referendum even before the Lisbon agreement was signed. Here is a blog posting from Jonathan Calder on it from 2009:

    http://liberalengland.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/lib-dems-should-drop-in-or-out.html

    I think one can argue that had Nick Clegg been a conviction politician and stood up for Europe, instead of trying to be all things to all men, we might have won fewer seats in 2010, but the Party’s voice would have been clearer. There was a case for campaigning strongly for EU reform in the 2010 GE; this will have to come anyway after we have left. The future relationship between countries inside and outside the Eurozone is not something that can be put off indefinitely.

  • William Ross 10th Feb '17 - 3:28pm

    I am still amazed by the prevailing Lib Dem view that somehow the EU/EC/EEC kept the peace in Europe. The reason we have peace in Europe is that German militarism was utterly destroyed in 1945. So was Italian militarism. Spanish, Portuguese and Greek dictatorships fell in the mid 1970s. Democracies do not attack one another. The EU is paper tiger in military terms and I cannot conceive of anyone ever firing a shot in its defence. As Guy Verhofstadt has credibly argued, the EU was a total embarrassment in the Balkan crisis and in connection with the Ukraine. NATO and nothing but NATO has kept the peace. The EU is the dissolute fruit of a peace earned and preserved by others.

  • It must be really agonising to be a unionist

    What about those unionists who voted, ‘Leave’ precisely because they don’t want to see the UK absorbed into a European superstate?

  • Nick Collins 10th Feb '17 - 5:06pm

    @ Dave Gorman

    Joseph O’Neill’ s thought-provoking article on page 29 of today’s “Guardian” would seem highly relevant to this thread. Would someone with more techno-savvy than me like to provide the link?

  • David Allen 10th Feb '17 - 7:42pm

    Good article by Dave Gorman – Corker of an article by O’Neill in the Guardian.

    The digested read: We signed up for Brexit on the reasonable assumption that we had good stable democratic friends in the US. Turns out that the US has become a rogue state, a massive danger to us and to the EU, and a state which plans to exploit Brexit in evil ways never envisaged by Brexit voters. Solution, make a solemn commitment to respect the Brexit decision, but put an emergency hold on triggering Article 50 until (and here I’m bringing in my own little paraphrase) “we find out just what the hell is going on!”

  • Richard Underhill 10th Feb '17 - 9:37pm

    Tim Shipman’s book All Out War, Harper Collins, 2016, page 542, quotes a speech by Theresa May Home Secretary and Conservative leadership candidate.
    “… She ruled out a general election until 2020. Then she announced that there was no need to see a budget deficit before 2020 either, throwing George Osborne’s central economic target into the dustbin. … “.
    Should this be “surplus” or has she been misreported?

  • AI; it is the stated intent of the SNP to have a further referendum whenever they believe they can win. The future of Scotland is independence, Brexit is actually little issue to it, if remain had won Ms Sturgeon would be happily ruminating on some other imagined slight from Westminster which would lead to more threats of independence. The sooner it happens the sooner both sides can move on.

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