Richard North, 23/11/2012  

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Watching the to-ing and fro-ing on the EU budget all day is not quite like watching paint dry. It's more like watching multiple repeats of a badly scripted Punch & Judy show, where the puppet-master has forgotten the ending and has to keep the performance going until he remembers.

Despite the lack of developments, however, the Fourth Estate and the over-excited think-tankers have to generate their quotas of extruded verbal material, just to convince themselves that they are in the game. But their prattle has about as much relevance to events as muzak in the office lift.

What is far more interesting is the mood music drifting from the British politico-media bubble, where dim little brains are just beginning to see what we were seeing last June - that the UK could be on the exit ramp, set for withdrawal from the EU in a few short years.

Nothing quite terrifies the establishment more than this prospect, so over the last few days we have seen a rush of publicity and articles variously raising fears about the consequences of departure and talking up the prospects and merits of renegotiation.

It really does not matter, of course, how many times you point out that renegotiation is not possible – without first committing to leave the EU. The name of the game is to distract the less sophisticated voter from the clean-break option, and to muddy the waters when it comes to the inevitable referendum.

The test of how serious it has all become, though, comes with that bellweather of treachery, the Myrtle creature, who is now pushing for all it is worth the renegotiation / repatriation option.

Considering that the Myrtle is supposed to be a life member of the "Better Off Out" tendency, it is entertaining to see his latest volte face which offers us a complex package of powers to put on the repatriation list, amounting to a partial withdrawal from the EU – which actually means that we remain members.

So complete is the conversion that the Myrtle dares not spell it out openly, relying on puzzled readers to work out the thrust of his ideas which put him firmly in the "fairies-at-the-bottom-of-the-garden" camp, headed towards never-never land.

Not a few commenters have sussed out the lad, and many more note with amusement that Myrtle is once again showing his true colours. But, as the forces gather to head off the threatened withdrawal, never has it been more important for the eurosceptic community to up its game and come up with a coherent exit plan.

However, in this blog and elsewhere, we already see the makings of one, with the idea of a negotiated exit using the Article 50 process. Membership of the EEA, nationalisation of all unadopted EU law, adoption of all third party treaties and a new treaty of affiliation - all with a 5-10 year review, should get us out of the Union with minimal trauma and buy us sufficient time to rebuild our statute book and redefine out own policies.

The essence of this is cautious gradualism. It is all very well for the likes of Myrtle so glibly to call for "withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy … ", but from a standing start, I would be amazed if it took less than five years to have a substitute policy in place and another five to negotiate and implement it properly.

The likes of Myrtle, therefore, do us no favours. This 1 January coming will see the 40th anniversary of our joining the communities, and it is only sensible to take our departure slowly and carefully. Forty years of integration is not going to be undone in a hurry.

But the most important and pressing thing is to get rid of the fear factor. The many different departure scenarios range from the overnight, crash exit (on the Farage model), which would undoubtedly lead to chaos, to the fully-negotiated departure where the day after leaving is no different than the day before. This would allow an orderly transition to freedom, as we ease our way out over a number of years.

So trauma-free would be this option that the British establishment dare not even think about it. Their only "plays" are to invoke fear of chaos or, in the manner of a stage magician, to do the switch, replacing an exit with renegotiation.

And that is Myrtle's latest trick – the razzle-dazzle repatriation show … anything to keep attention away from the prospect of a successful withdrawal. We must not be allowed to think about that because, if we believe it possible, it will probably happen.


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