A good argument for Brexit

Image result for investor state dispute settlementA friend referred me to a relatively new site “Briefings on Brexit” yesterday which I checked out with interest. It was started by academics who were fed up with Brexit being stereotyped as mad and bad. They started the site to proselytise a reasoned and well informed case for Brexit. On a quick look I was looking for signs of unreasonableness and crankery and found one article which fit the bill I think (the basic theory he quotes is speculative, but interesting, but he puts it to very crude use in his article complete with a ‘Laffer Curve’ style graph), but most seemed fairly reasonable at least on their face (though I’m not in a position to judge a lot of their claims).

I thought this article raised a very important point. Here is the guts of the argument through extensive quote below. Note, due to Troppo readers’ notorious lack of concentration, I have added additional paragraph breaks. (You’re welcome!).

The EU is an institution which – despite all its window-dressing – is still essentially an intergovernmental organisation.  Decisions are made through the familiar processes of international bargaining, though unlike other international bargains the ones made in the EU directly apply to the internal arrangements of the member states.  And international negotiations have always been pre-eminently the arena in which governments act secretly and spring faits accomplis on their citizens. … But secrecy in general is endemic to international relations.

Because of this, even if a country’s constitution gives the final say over an international agreement to the legislature (as ours arguably does not), in practice the negotiations are entirely in the hands of the executive, the repository of secrets in most modern states.  International negotiations also tend to give a disproportionate role to the civil servants, the “sherpas” in contemporary parlance, who prepare the ground for their (supposed) masters, since very few modern politicians have the time or the experience to pay as much attention to international politics as they do to the internal politics of their own countries.  Their instincts are also likely to be much less acute when they leave the familiar territory in which they have made their careers.

This is the particularly toxic feature of the EU. A democratic state like the United Kingdom has, by and large, a pretty open debate about important domestic issues.  There may be secret manoeuvrings within party executives and within Whitehall, but it all has to come out into the open before any firm decisions are made, and politicians can relatively easily be forced into u-turns.  But to make important decisions through international bargaining, decisions which then structure the economy, and even to some extent the society, of a member state, as those made through the EU institutions must do, is to bring secrecy into the heart of domestic politics.

With secrecy inevitably comes mistrust.  As modern states do more and more through international agreements, distrust of politicians grows among their populations, who suspect that their ruling classes now have more in common with the ruling classes of other countries than they do with the ruled of their own.  They may be right in this mistrust – after all, for much of the pre-democratic history of our countries this would have been an entirely well-founded apprehension – but even without a cultural sympathy of this kind the logic of the international structures makes a politician into a kind of secret agent within their own country.  Who knows what they really want, and what they have implicitly as well as explicitly agreed to?

Defenders of the EU can agree with all this, and they can go on to say that for this reason it is vital to turn the EU into a proper state with the kind of transparent internal politics that we were used to in our individual nations fifty or sixty years ago.  But as things stand that ambition looks absurdly utopian – far more utopian than anything Brexiteers are guilty of.  Like so much of the EU, its political accountability is stuck in a half-way house, unable to move forward or backwards.  If we value transparency and trustworthiness in our politics, we have to leave the EU and detoxify our public life; until we have thoroughly disentangled ourselves from it, distrust will remain the default attitude of the British public, and nothing can be done about that during the interim period we have embarked upon.

These issues were most powerfully expounded on by Varoufakis after his Kafkaesque experience with the Eurozone. But they’re real for us too. And Kafka would be proud of the way it works. I was on the fringes of the negotiation of the TPP. Negotiated entirely in secret from all Australian interests, including Australian business – but not, remarkably enough from major US corporations – DFAT ‘briefings’ of Australian interests were a very strange affairs running roughly along these lines.

DFAT: Welcome to this six monthly briefing where we’re consulting you on what you think our negotiating objectives are.

Team Australia: What happened over the last six months.

DFAT: Very hard to say. But what do you propose should be our updated negotiating objectives.

Team Australia: Very hard to say.

More to the point these secret international negotiations offer a vector by which international power – particularly international corporate power – enters Australian law – via such means as unjustifiably extended IP, disciplines on collective national negotiation of the price of imports and the running insult to the last few centuries of painful constitutional development that is investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) which had the Canadian Government in lengthy arbitration over its improvement of the innovation hurdle in patents and Australia in the same kind of malarky over plain paper packaging for cigarettes.

Does this make me a Brexiter? No, though I could easily a Euro exiter if I was in a country on the periphery of the Eurozone. We’re in a very sticky situation I think.

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39 Responses to A good argument for Brexit

  1. conrad says:

    Doesn’t your example of the TPP really show that effects of mistrust and secrecy are likely to be quite mixed when you compare individual countries versus conglomerations of countries trying to act together? One can imagine situations where things like a TPP would be more transparent when multiple countries have to cooperate than when they don’t (it’s not like they could have been less secret). In this case, slicing off individual countries to coerce might well be much simpler than trying to coerce a block of countries, and it is hard to see how you could retain secrecy as happened with the TPP when multiple countries need to collaborate as a block.

  2. John Burnheim says:

    In the past generation most countries have taken basic financial regulation out of the hands of politicians and entrusted such matters as money supply and interest rates to Reserve Banks, quite rightly. The complexities of most international matters are beyond the scope of party politics. Only a team of professional negotiators can master them. What is needed are auditors won scrutinise the work of the professionals. Of course that is taking away any pretence that the politicians, or the voters, make the decisions. As far as the civil service is concerned an audit just praises or blames them after the event. But at least it might make them more aware that they are being held responsible. Ministers in charge of branch of the civil services are usually bound to defend it rather than examine it.

  3. John Quiggin says:

    The problem is that there are many different cases for Brexit, aiming to get different things. As May has given more and more ground on her “red lines”, it’s become obvious that the core of support for Brexit isn’t a general concern about national autonomy (which could be addressed, to a significant extent, with the Norway option), it’s about ending free movement. And, in turn, opposition to free movement is mainly driven by racism.

    • When it comes to coupling a uncontraversial statement “there are many different cases for Brexit, aiming to get different things. ”
      with a ‘controversial grand’ assertion:
      “that the core of support for Brexit isn’t a general concern about national autonomy (which could be addressed, to a significant extent, with the Norway option), it’s about ending free movement. And, in turn, opposition to free movement is mainly driven by racism ”
      Mr Quiggin takes the biscuit. ( slipperiness worthy of trump etc)

      • John Quiggen
        history is visceral and the bellow excerpt from a famous speech is I think a more likely ancestor to the heart and soul of Brexit supporters:

        “I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm”…

      • John Quiggin says:

        An impressive example of a non-denial denial.

        • John Quiggin says:

          Meant as a response to the first comment, not the poetic nostalgia

          • Poetry is everything, it’s eternal, on the other hand economics temporary and is mostly BS (and too often afig leaf for the privileged) .

            John Quiggin your economics is but a poetic dream…

        • Unless you have mass mind reading powers your claims as to why individual people voted yes or no to brexit are just puff.
          BTW I would have voted remain , your clueless response is a classic example of why so many voted leave.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      How could concern with national autonomy be addressed with the Norway option? Isn’t that mainly admission to the EU without a seat at the table – losing autonomy of trade policy, contributing to the EU budget, signing up to the ECJ and so on?

  4. paul frijters says:

    I find this reasoning on secrecy very muddled.
    For one, national armies and intelligence agencies base themselves on lots of secrets, so there is nothing new about the secrecy element. The British people know very little of what goes on in the halls of power, just as any other population of a medium-sized country knows very little of what goes on in the specialism of politics. So the secrecy angle sound totally bogus to me.
    I understand that the UK already is subject to something like 800 courts (a number I heard some lawyer say on the TV). The international Court of Justice, various conventions on refugees and land mines, lots of Sea-related courts, arbitration committees of the WTO, all kinds of standards committees, etc. So the idea of full and immediate sovereignty whereby a country is truly an island is just a fantasy. This is not what the UK or any other country is or could be anymore. We are too tied together.
    The idea that the EU is too secretive, but bilateral trade treaties with the US and others are going to be less secretive is just funny.

    The writer hence makes interesting points about the lack of democratic accountability arising from the high degree of specialisation in politics and the bureaucracy. But when it comes to Brexit, his arguments seem off the mark.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      Thanks Paul,

      The picture Varoufakis paints is one of complete lack of transparency and so of accountability. There was no capacity to argue anything. Understandings emerging from one meeting disappeared by the time of the next. etc. It seems pretty obvious to me that, once things are inter-governmentally determined that opens up a huge opportunity for power to have its way when it could well be struggling to do so outside that context. Thus American corporate power might not be able to achieve its goals in retrospectively extending IP terms domestically, but it can operate internationally to start inserting it in national negotiations with the Americans trying to get it into trade agreements with other countries.

      I’m not too sure what secrecy in intelligence adds. Presumably the argument there is that secrecy is always a bad thing other things being equal, but in military and intelligence matters there’s a sufficient contrary consideration that it trumps the value of transparency. I don’t see why trade treaties can’t be negotiated in the open, or at the very least draft text circulated at the end of each stage of negotiations. Without this the process of consulting domestically becomes a farce.

      • paul frijters says:

        I agree the EU is overly secretive. What I am saying is that UK politics is no less secretive and that the envisioned trajectory outside of it is even more secretive. The large secretive security apparatus in the UK is just an example of that prevalence of secrecy.
        It is just totally tangential to the Brexit stuff. The author simply projects his own experiences and obsessions on Brexit.

        • Nicholas Gruen says:

          I can accept that secrecy perhaps looks like a bit of a red herring, but if you have a lot of laws being implemented because they were ‘agreed’, then the point is they don’t become law by being argued about in the parliament (some may need to be implemented in the parliament, but that will occur in a very different environment to the situation outside the EU.)

          Of course that’s in the nature of a confederation. But there are at least two questions here. Firstly whether the confederation is well structured to have a reasonable degree of subsidiarity. Secondly there’s the question of the extent to which vested interests get a better go at things in the (no longer smoke filled) halls where the deals are done. And a higher degree of secrecy, and an environment where it’s not clear why you’re doing stuff, it just comes out of the sausage machine for you to comply with – imposes a heavy load on people’s sense that they’re in a democracy.

    • Paul
      Part of it may be that the EU has under the banner of ‘harmonising ‘ often moved into regulating areas that would be better left at to individual states to decide.

      For example the EU directed that all of the EU states including the UK must have an Artists Resale royalty scheme – which is hardly a human rights issue, about 70% of the money goes to dead artists estates ,another 15% goes to management and living artists get the table scraps.

      The net effects of that EU directive has been to some degree reduce the international competitiveness of the UK art market and it also is clear that the sales that the UK lost have not gone to Paris or other EU art markets.

      The UK would never have introduced the resale royalty without that EU directive . Despite the UK being by far the biggest most international art market in Europe, generating a lot of income and jobs , they were overruled by an EU process that was very secretive .
      Gather that it’s not an isolated example.

      • paul frijters says:

        I understand that the resale directive was voted upon by the EU parliament and was openly deliberated. So it basically is part of the small set of issues decided at the European level without the national governments having the final say.

        Bad legislation, for sure, but secretive? As I understand it, it didn’t even involve national governments deliberating. It was driven by a bureaucratic mind set, probably lobbied for in Brussels, and voted upon by MEPs. The same way it happened in Australia!

        • Paul
          Not sure, it’s a long time ago. From memory the vote involved something like a ‘briefing document’ to the EU parliament that was extremely questionable.

          As for australia the hope was that our special relationship to the US would help sell the idea to the US..

          However a recent US ruling has found that the resale royalty is contra long established (quite important )aspects of US federal copyright law ie-it’s deader than the dodo in the USA. And that according to expert opinion is not a surprise.

          My own experience of committees , I really really,cannot understand your ‘ good humour ‘.

          • paul frijters says:

            we’ve got to laugh at committees. We’d go insane otherwise. For over 15 years now, I have told myself that the huge explosion in useless administrators is a form of ‘unemployment with dignity’. Its an answer to robots and AI, a means of rent-sharing.

        • Nicholas Gruen says:

          Thanks Paul,

          All good then. John’s is not the counterexample I was looking for.

          And it has to be admitted that EU is the right jurisdiction since IP is being fitted into trade powers these days – more’s the pity!

          • Except that copyright doesn’t normally apply to one off unique objects.
            And also normally re copyright if you have paid in full for a copy that’s it as far as the rights of the copyright holder.

            Also am not sure about the process that resulted in the EU adopting the directive when I have .times

          • Nicholas
            The process that led to the recommendation by the EU commission, to the EU states was I think very secretive .
            And very slippery; At the heart of that recommendation was the proposition that the royalty was , when it suited, a disadvantage and also when it suited ‘not a problem ‘.

        • Paul
          ” It was driven by a bureaucratic mind set” that’s probably the heart of it.
          Anne and I ,back in 2008-2010 had a more contact with the principal purported lobbyists both national and international, for the royalty (much more than any sane person would want )-truth is they couldn’t advocate their way out of a soggy paper bag.

  5. Know Teeth says:

    John arrrghhhh Walker “Poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand”. Plato
    Take a lesson from NG. He said it coherently and without POE-etry.

    • paul frijters says:

      dont knock a guy for the way he is trying to communicate. At least he is trying!

      Besides, I thought he was quite right to tell JQ that he was being fast ans loose with big terms regarding immigration. You should have a look at the map of the ethnicities who voted Brexit. If there is a racist element, it is oriented primarily towards white Eastern Europeans!

      • Paul not long after the Brexit vote I read a long piece by a journalist who had gone to the regional UK towns that had most strongly voted leave.
        She had interviewed a lot of people and the recurring theme was ; these people lived in areas that had copped it really hard in the eighties and onward and the area had never really recovered .

        They had seen the destructive part of creative destruction but the ‘creative ‘ bit had passed over them, probably on a flight to Brussels .

        • derrida derider says:

          Yep, which illustrates just how absurd the “too much secrecy in dealing with Brussels” line is. The deindustrialisation of huge parts of the country in favour of London financiers was the work of a secretive coterie alright – but that coterie was led by a woman who hated the EU precisely because she saw it as socialist interference in that deindustrialisation.

          Over on the Continent they have these quaint un-British views on open government and les droits de l’homme. It is not the EU’s “democratic deficit” that the Tory Eurosceptics cannot abide, but the EU’s attempts to reduce that deficit.

  6. Nicholas Paul
    It seems there was at least some degree of a public side to the EU process that lead to the resale directive:

    In 1991, the Commission began a renewed onslaught to establish a harmonised system of copyright by publishing its Follow-up to the Green Paper which contained a chapter on ARR. The Commission then carried out a number of information-gathering exercises and “conducted studies into the economic and legal aspects of the matter.” This included public hearings in July and November 1991, August 1994, February 1995 and October 1996. It can only be assumed that lobby groups had a strong voice at these consultations, but it is known that the Design and Artists Copyright Society Ltd has been involved in a campaign to introduce ARR since 1993, and claim to have had many meetings with members of DG XV.
    It is foreseeable, however, that a strong influence upon the Commission’s decisions may have come from others with an incentive to have a unified market; that is, the members of the art trade in those states where ARR is already established who look enviously at the growing success of the London art market. A preferable course would be for those states with ARR to reassess the efficiency of their own markets and the desirability of such a right itself rather than promoting an adverse position for all those within the Union. The repeal of laws was also discussed as a way to end present inequalities at the hearing in February 1995.
    The majority of Member States decided in favour of the Commission’s proposals arguing that ” a generalised application of the artist’s resale right would put an end to the inequality of treatment of contemporary artists in the various Member States while promoting a harmonious development of the art market.”
    This is a position which may have been enforced due to the Phil Collins case, which has the effect of preventing states from disallowing application of the right on the ground that their own state does not enforce ARR. There is consequently a double inequality, as not only do the artists of states with ARR loose their royalty when the sale is in a state without the right, but the sellers within the jurisdiction with ARR still have to pay the levy to an artist whose own national legislation does not provide for a resale royalty.

    The legal basis which the Commission gives for its proposals centres around Article 100a of the European Union Treaty 1992 in its task to promote the establishment of a common market, as laid out in Article 7a. Article 100a(1) is concerned with the Council’s approximation of provisions of the Member States which aims at the establishment and functioning of the internal market. This reasoning is backed up by the case of Spain v. Council, where the European Court of Justice confirmed that, in the field of intellectual property, the use of Article 100a was the correct legal basis for the harmonisation of measures pursuing Article 7a’s objectives. As will be discussed below, this creates an implicit recognition that ARR affects international trade. If it did not, then there would be no legal foundation for its introduction as it would not be necessary for the functioning of the internal market.

    [emphasis mine]

    Introducing Droit de Suite into the EU, An Economic Viewpoint
    Catherine Bogle LLM, EMLE*

  7. Matt Moore says:

    Recently I’ve been reading a fair bit of material from Chris Bickerton – who in fact collaborated with Richard Tuck on this: https://thecurrentmoment.wordpress.com/2017/11/20/a-brexit-proposal-bickerton-and-tuck/

    I have some sympathy with their position. They see the EU as unaccountable and anti-democratic – and they also see the opacity of the EU being leveraged by UK politicians to likewise avoid accountability. Their argument is not about keeping out foreigners nor is it some kind of pathetic harking back to the lost days of Empire.

    However I am against Brexit. Just because you can conceivably imagine a better UK polity post-Brexit does not mean that is the most likely outcome. UK politicians will continue to avoid accountability – by blaming “The Markets” or “The US” or “China or even “The EU”. The UK will just be more isolated.

    Altho perhaps a broader question is whether the EU will continue to be around in its current form in 20 years. The EU’s power and prestige felt hit it hit a high water mark with the Treaty of Lisbon prior to the Euro Crisis.

    • Matt
      I think, if I was a UK citizen, I would have voted remain for much the same reasons , as the song says: everywhere you go ,you always take the weather with you.
      I think Churchill might have also said ; what’s the point of a bulldog without things worth fighting for ,things worth protecting; don’t walk away, stay in and fight tooth and nail.

    • Matt Moore says:

      As Danny Dorling says towards the end of this: http://www.lse.ac.uk/Events/2018/07/20180717t1830vOT/peak-inequality

      ‘The EU is not a wonderful thing. It is a rich man’s club. It is very secretive. It is not democratic. We [the UK] are just worse”

      • Yep the Brits do know a thing or two about clubs for the right kind of person.

        The eternal fight in the Anglican Church ( of which i am for my sins a member) is not about theology and the like, rather its always about:
        Is it a Church for all, or is it a Church for the right kind of person?

        Mind the same is true of most groups-organisations etc.

  8. Nicholas Gruen says:

    After Greece the UK’s exit from the EU couldn’t happen to a nicer pack of bastards. It’s just that it’s a nightmare for the UK which had the best of all worlds – access to the Euro market without being necklaced by the Euro.

    • Nicholas
      One of the most compelling arguments for remain that I’ve read was :
      It is often said that the European Union is beyond reform. This is untrue, both looking backwards at past reform and looking ahead to what is possible. There is a lot the UK could do acting unilaterally – just by abandoning the sloppy business of deal-making, and instead being really rigorous about applying the main principles governing policy-making in the European Union. It should encourage others to do the same and be willing to test these principles in court. I call this a ‘policy of non-capitulation in Europe’ and if we took this seriously we would have an EU that does what it should be best at – free trade with a high regard for the wider public good, not just a race to the bottom.

      But a bolder reform agenda is also achievable – it just needs determination and guile. The UK public is not alone in its concerns that the EU is a remote, aloof and elitist project that is disconnected from its citizens. There is scope for a coalition of North Europeans – Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, the Baltic states – to press a reform agenda. But that needs UK leadership, not a retreat. I don’t believe the ‘ever-closer-union’ idea is workable. The future is ‘variable geometry’, just as it is now. We aren’t in the Eurozone or Schengen visa area, and we have opt-outs from aspects of security, justice and human rights policy.”

      In short remain in and seek allies would have been a better strategy .

  9. Nicholas Gruen says:

    It ties in nicely with this piece by David Goodhart which I thought was excellent.

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