Saturday, 31 October 2015

Brexit - Ping of Death - Tariff Threats

The Leave campaign are subject to a ping of death attack at the moment. Not in the literal internet security sense of the phrase but in the arena of battle where they fight to wrestle sovereignty of the UK away from the clammy hands of the career political class in Brussels. It's irritating but something that we're going to have to get used to and learn to provide an effective response to. This will require knowledge, teamwork and endurance. Whoever gets the prize of being designated the 'official' leave campaign will have to work quickly to consolidate and accommodate all others with a vested interest in order to maximise the depth of knowledge and to build an effective fighting force, because this ping of death is only going to get louder as time progresses.

It's not the BSE (Britain Stronger in Europe) team that we're up against here, and I'd suggest that right now, expending any energy on BSE is a wasted effort. The people in the other corner are much more significant players: Cameron; Osborne; Mandelson; Clarke - etc etc and they have access to all kinds of resources in order to deliver just the right levels of FUD to discourage Leavers from regaining their democracy.  Naturally, nobody wants to be seen to be the source of a ping of death, and the beauty of such an attack is that it's distributed. Each source need only expend a little bit of effort to fire off the occasional ping (Brexit doubt) yet the wide scope of the attack soon bogs down the target, leaving them fighting to deliver any service whatsoever.

It's fair to say that we've had a few such 'pings' from the USA during this year. The President himself has clearly stated on more than one occassion that he believes the UK will have more influence by staying in the EU. This is counter intuitive when you begin to understand how our relationship with the EU works. Inside the EU, we get 1/28th representation on the world stage where the EU acts as some kind of regional proxy for us - yet the belief of many Brexiteers is that by taking our own seat at the top table, we'd have a better chance of full representation and an increase in influence. We're not a small force internationally in any capacity so why should we be allowed to be treated as such? Surely the truth behind Obama's comments is that our position in the EU is a matter of convenience to the USA.

So then we come to Michael Froman (US Trade Representative) and his own extremely well timed contribution to the Ping of Death. This commentary half inched from the Guardian:

Froman  “I think it’s absolutely clear that Britain has a greater voice at the trade table being part of the EU, being part of a larger economic entity,” Froman told Reuters, "adding that EU membership gives Britain more leverage in negotiations. We’re not particularly in the market for FTAs with individual countries. We’re building platforms … that other countries can join over time.”

Let's break that down and examine that a little shall we:

Froman: “I think it’s absolutely clear that Britain has a greater voice at the trade table being part of the EU"

Reality: Probably not if we're honest about this. How does proxying our national interests through an institution which is also juggling the interests of 27 other nations, many of which bear little resemblance to our own, somehow amplify our influence. This sentence is a substance free sound bite.

Froman: "...being part of a larger economic entity"

Reality:  Having a large number of countries neatly tucked under its belt does count for something, and this would have meaning if a) we were small enough to be insignificant - instead we're about the 5th largest economy in the world and b) the EU was really amplifying our national interests. But it's not - the EU acts in its own interests because the idea of the EU as a country is far more important to the political class in the EU than the idea of member nations having individual needs. I'm also repulsed by this continued notion that financial incentives are enough to lure people away from their democratic rights. One of my Grandfathers manned Liberators in WW2 and the other was both an SOE and later a member of Z Special Unit - I often wonder what they would think of a generation prepared to throw away hard won democracy for the sake of the removal of mobile roamming charges.

Froman: "adding that EU membership gives Britain more leverage in negotiations."

Reality: I think he's echoing the President's line here. No need to repeat my thoughts.

Froman "We’re not particularly in the market for FTAs with individual countries. We’re building platforms … that other countries can join over time.”

Reality: And there it is ... we've gotten past the pastry and are at the meat of his sausage roll now because Froman has a vested interest in the strategic implementation of both the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP to you and me) and also the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

TTIP is a contentious and widely reviled, proposed free trade agreement between the USA and the EU. It's seen as elevating corporate interests over those of national interests, particularly Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) which allow corporations to sue governments should their policies be seen to impact profits. The upshot of this is that corporations will have significant power with which to lobby governments and shape policy, moving the balance of democracy further away from the people who, by this time, are simply relegated to consumer status. Yet another beautiful moment in the Mandelson cited 'Post Democratic Era'.

Let's not kid ourselves here, this isn't a new thing but it doesn't really make it any less ugly. I find myself yearning for a single nation agreement here because if this goes the way of the pear, I want to be able to vote out those on this side of the Atlantic who are / were responsible and have them punished (and not in the Tom Sharpe / Nanny Whip kind of way).

Brexit would be massively inconvenient to Froman, fracturing the scope of his deliverable right at the point of closure. It's like buying a bag of marbles and then getting home to find out that the really interesting big one that you had your eye on slipped out of the bag on the way home.  There's no doubt in my mind that the US would have to come to the table and negotiate a free trade arrangement because the era of petty tariff wars is long gone and it's in everyone's interest. Here I have to state again, we're not a minor economic power, so let's not talk down our worth. However, for all those with a vested interested in keeping the dream of the undemocratic EU alive - the threat of tariffs is another convenient ping from Project Fear.

The antidote for the Leave campaign will be a firewall (dedicated crack team of volunteers well versed in the minutiae of the EU argument) - ready to intercept this kind of nonsense at the earliest opportunity - subsequently providing a swift and confident response for whoever ends up being the poster child of Leave. As the attack vector changes - the firewall rules will need to be continually refreshed to adapt to the emerging threats. This function has the potential to keep a lot of people very busy for the next two years.

And all that doesn't mean. of course, that we don't go on the attack ourselves; there's no fun to be had in this game if we always allow ourselves to be on the back foot. After all, the best form of defence is attack. All metaphorically speaking naturally.

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