"In the midst of this Referendum is a little secret, one that could be transformational. It’s the realisation that Brexit is not a pit full of sharpened sticks but a moment that can be seized for the greater good. And the people who recognise that will benefit the most - because change is recognised as opportunity for the wise and brave."
|There's a seat here, with our name on it.|
The old order of things
For a small island, we’re doing remarkably well in the world. Consistently outperforming the majority of our fellow EU members and projected to overtake the German economy by 2030. For reasons that are probably hard to fathom for many, the UK has a resilient spirit that keeps it punching well above its weight, allowing us to maintain global influence and promote our values.
And it’s because of this that I find our ongoing relationship with the EU as completely baffling. It’s often put to me that being a member of the EU, one face in 28, helps us gain influence around the world giving us real collaborative clout. But for a nation like ours, does this arrangement sound like a promotion of status to you or are we being marginalised? For me, it’s the latter. Drawing together 28 disparate nation states in to a collective and expecting them all to cede to a common view is a big ask - one which requires sacrifices and concessions in order to get that commonality. In order to satisfy member nations, the mechanism at play need to be fluid and fair but as we’ve seen before, they’re not.
We have an EU parliament which fragments our MEPs to suit pan EU politics rather than domestic, completely neutering our 9% representation. We have a Council of Ministers where we’ve failed to block a single act since the mid 90's and flatly failed to halt the appointment of Juncker. And we have a Commission made of appointed staff rather than being elected by the people. In respect of this last point, people will tell you that our appointed Commissioner provides some kind of national representation in that circle (as Peter Hain tried to assert recent Question Time) but the truth of the matter is that its a job appointment to work for the EU - and not an channel for the UK to lobby its interests.
Breaking the hierarchy
Through these many cumbersome cogs, we’ve supposed to work the machine to our advantage. It may have made sense back in the 70's with limited membership - but does it make sense now?
In these days where we recognise that change is a constant and that we need to be more agile than ever, it makes absolutely no sense to coalesce different nations in to a monolithic bloc. Unless, of course, you intend to use that power for geographic regional protectionism. Yet under the light of change, we know full well that the world is connected in entirely different ways now. I have no more difficulty communicating with someone in New York than I do Glasgow. So whilst there is some merit in regional dialogue over matters of security and resources, forming rigid political alignments with an ever growing number of nations just because they happen to border your own makes absolutely no sense. Wake up, the internet has happened! We are now connected world wide at the speed of light.
In fact, by posturing in this manner and forming blocs, we create a weather front where national ideologies clash - and when we reach a boundary that the bloc cannot consume or absorb, expect there to be thunder and lightning as expansionism is seen as a threat. Even beyond that, in a global age the presence of a cumbersome and rigid Supranational on the world stage must look like an ogreish attempt to dominate rather than an attempt to foster global collaboration.
Brexit gives us opportunity to change that stance and represent ourselves at the top tables. Each and every round of discussions allows us to foster new alliances, making sure the best decisions are made for the right reasons, rather than be bound to a single entity that is primarily concerned with asserting its own identity. In trade and standards, we’ve already seen the direction of travel moving away from archaic trade blocs with FTAs and towards sector specific agreements, something Dr Richard North calls ‘unbundling’. From ‘The Market Solution’:
“The ability to act independently offers the prospect of "unbundling" - seeking sector - specific (or even product - specific) solutions. These can replace ambitious free trade agreements that promise much but are often able to deliver little. Rather than promoting geographically anchored bilateral deals and then seeking to justify them with estimated (and often exaggerated) gains, potential savings might be identified by sector, with the more valuable targeted first. Currently, motor vehicles, electrical machinery, chemicals, financial services, government procurement and intellectual property rights are thought to be the most promising.”
It seems clear to me that there is a wave of change happening in the global arena - and the UK should be at the forefront of this wave, leading the way - with Brexit being the body board, gliding us to the next shore. Through these transformations, we get true collaboration and likely a fairer result for all.
Still inclined to think that the EU represents a sensible approach to our future of the UK? Then take a look at this blog by Pete North: The EU is not a trade bloc - it's a power cult
In this, he illustrates the increasing irrelevance of - and interference by the EU in the matter of evolving global standards. We can either shy away from this chance to take a leading role and remain one voice in 28 (for now - more later) - or we can take the bull by the horns and lead the way.
"Change is opportunity for the wise and brave"
What we can learn from this vision?
Brexit cannot mean pulling up the drawbridge and living in a bubble because doing so demonstrates that you're in denial about the direction of travel. If you think that's where we should go, then you'll consign this nation to the margins of tomorrow's history. It’s impossible for us to go back in time; wishing for such is a wasted effort. Instead, we must aspire to a new future. Not only does this go for the state of the nation and its relationship with the wider world, domestic issues must change too.
For too long has Westminster been a stuffy cabal packed full of faces (primarily of well to do men) who have promised everything for the vote and then thought 'serve' meant 'lead without consultation'. In the same way that we look to the EU issue to transform the global politics, we then need to look to the UK post Brexit to radically transform the way we operate. Bring out the broom and sweep clean - or incrementally transform - but change, because it is necessary.
The UK would gain international respect through promoting and upholding its virtues, yet showing that it can be flexible enough to make significant change. By demonstrating that, without of an overbearing bureaucratic entity looming over the top of us and taking all the credit, we can lead the way in domestic transformation without the need to beg for consent from another 27 nations.
Whether it’s equality (both gender and race) - or justice - or freedom, in this interconnected world where it’s so hard to hide away your sins, we can use our new found freedom to act as beacons of virtue, daring other nations to follow suit. Not because we have it legislated from the top down as some kind of hierarchical overspill - but from the ground upwards, because the maturity of our culture demands it, forcing leadership to shape up or ship out.
And just as we work in a truly collaborative and intergovernmental manner globally, so the national politics should change radically, enshrining a collaborative approach and eschewing the antiquated hierarchies that have dominated for so long. Brexit may just be the fire that lights the fuse, so it's no wonder that our most challenging opposition to date is the stuffy old establishment of Westminster itself.
Change is either considered as a threat or an opportunity - and as change is a constant, your outlook on the matter will continually colour your life. If enough of us have the right outlook, perhaps we can carry the rest forward to a place that the EU couldn't possibly dream of.