A version of this article was first published in the newsletter for the ‘Campaign for an Independent Britain’.
Brexit and its subsequent mismanagement by the European Commission and Council represent a major failure of their style of technocratic government. A failure to understand or respond positively to the political dimension associated with their actions; a failure to follow their own laws, treaty obligations and rules to mitigate the damage caused; failure to learn from their mistakes. Rather than adapt they appear set to double down on their agenda to create a homogenised European Superstate through inflexible centralised top-down control. Ultimately, their ever-hardening attitude will lead to a destructive political schism in Europe, something they will find increasingly difficult to understand or control without coercion.
The Brussels Bubble ignores the political dimension
At the heart of the European Union’s (EU’s) whole approach to people (in policies, laws, regulations, and behaviour) is to treat us as objects or resources not as ‘flesh and blood’ sentient and intelligent individuals. Thus what people (in the Member States) may feel, including anguish and stress, can be ignored in the interests of serving ideological or bureaucratic purposes. The EU then may appear compassionate in theory but is often not in actual practice. Thus the EU is immune to events that interfere with its chosen direction; the EU’s obsession with the ‘European Project’.
The European Commission has built up considerable expertise in centralised, top-down regulation, as a means of creating a homogenous European Superstate. Whilst often starting relatively unobtrusively, this approach inevitably leads to over-regulation as Eurocrats search for activities to bring under their ever more demanding control. Yet this does not occur in a vacuum; there is the wider or bigger picture where it all fits in. Each initiative has political, economic, public safety and security implications. The political dimension itself can be very wide-ranging including notions of cultural heritage, identity, democracy, freedom, law, and social stability.
Bureaucrats commonly fail to look beyond their narrow specialisations. Their reality is limited to ideological premises, sacrosanct assumptions and concepts to be universally applied. The outside world then remains just that – outside. The European Council of Ministers (political leaders of the Member States) whilst theoretically able to provide political insights has outsourced much of their oversight responsibilities to the European Commission and German hegemony. Neither Eurocrats nor politicians saw Brexit coming and have been unable or unwilling to accommodate its political dimension(s) since. (e.g., see Theresa May’s Impossible Choice 30th July 2018 in The New Yorker)
The EU’s technocrats had the expertise to run rings around Mrs May’s team, whilst they failed completely to address political aspects. The backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement is a case in point; few political leaders anywhere could accept the creation of a potentially indefinite internal border within their countries to serve the interests of a foreign power. But this is not the only issue – handing over (to the EU) defence, defence procurement, and fishing after Brexit are also issues where Brussels has made politically unreasonable demands. Such demands and more would obviously lead to political instability in the UK and a disorderly withdrawal.
The Brexit Elephant in the EU’s Room
Whilst a disorderly withdrawal has serious economic costs to both the EU and UK through loss of frictionless trade; this is not the only issue. The EU risks political instability and undermining of its authority within the remaining Member States arising from a perceived democratic deficient, the consequences of its own de-humanised insensitive actions and fall out from economic losses. With a loss of moral authority, the EU can only maintain itself through increasing coercion.
The EU’s inflexible complacency in the face of a disorderly departure of the UK is misplaced. A mutually beneficial settlement with the UK is essential for everyone, and the EU bears much of the responsibility for any failure to achieve this. Mrs May’s appalling handling of Brexit is only part of the problem, and in some instances, especially on the indivisibility of the four freedoms, there is evidence of her having been repeatedly misled by the EU’s leaders. The EU’s behaviour has been and remains more akin to the actions of a hostile power than of a friendly neighbour and ally wishing to maintain a long-standing close relationship. For example, former Greek Finance Minister Janis Varoukis has flamboyantly described the EU’s Article 50 behaviour as a Declaration of War.
The EU can then ill afford to have the UK as a major mistreated neighbour, a source of acrimony, mistrust and a potent example of the missed opportunity for mutually beneficial co-operation – a festering wound that will not heal. The EU needs to find a way forward to enable existing beneficial relationships (including frictionless trade and wide-ranging co-operation) to continue after a real Brexit that satisfies political aspirations in the UK. In a nutshell, the EU’s leaders need to be much less inflexibly dogmatic and much more humanely pragmatic. They need to stop using the Single Market as the thin regulatory edge of the political integration wedge. The European Commission’s technocrats know how it can be done; it is within their specialisations to know how. It is for them and the European Council to provide the political will to do it. Brexit is a unique wake-up call that sadly is likely to be ignored.